Judges Could Face Greater Scrutiny for Off-Bench Behavior

, The Legal Intelligencer


Judges Behaviour

That view is borne out by the number of sanctions the CJD imposed between 1995 and 2012 as listed in the board's 2012 annual report. According to the report, the CJD imposed an average of 2.6 sanctions per year on judges between 1995 and 2010; however, in both 2011 and 2012, seven sanctions were brought against judges.

"They've always prosecuted judges for conduct off the bench," Stretton said. "If it's criminal or dishonest, or brings disgrace on the judiciary, the court has always been diligent on those issues."

John S. Summers of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller said that while the overturning of Cicchetti may have been a small step toward greater liability for actions off the bench, the actions do not belie some larger trend.

"I think the court has generally interpreted some of the canons to cover extrajudicial conduct," Summers said. "The reason for this is that judges hold a special role in society. Judges give up certain rights that other citizens, including politicians, enjoy. They're not permitted to speak out on issues in the same way, attend the same kinds of functions. ... Similarly, certain kinds of somewhat egregious temperament gaffes are not permissible by judges, while they might be for others."

Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said the conduct of judges, both on and off the bench, is a very timely issue in light of some recent high-profile scandals, including last year's conviction of former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin on political corruption charges.

Marks said that while criminal activity of judges and actions on the bench that harm the judicial function are the most troubling, activities off the bench are still a concern.

"The fact that Carney's misconduct occurred outside the courtroom doesn't diminish the detrimental effect that his behavior has on the public confidence and the judiciary," Marks said. "We're very concerned about the public confidence. People have to feel like they respect judges and that they're going to get a fair shake."

According to Marks, implementing the new Judicial Code of Conduct is an important step toward maintaining the public's confidence.

"We think permitting judges to serve on corporate boards undermines the appearances of impartiality," Marks said. "This change may require some sacrifice on the part of the judges who currently sit on boards, but we believe that sacrifice is outweighed by the greater public good."

Another recent ruling that expanded the culpability of at least one former judge was the recent decision U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo of the Middle District of Pennsylvania made in January regarding former Luzerne County Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. In his decision, Caputo ruled that Ciavarella could be held civilly liable for depriving juveniles of their right to an impartial tribunal as part of the "kids-for-cash" scandal.

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