Conflicts matter: The integrity of the state high court is at stake
Avoiding even the appearance of what Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille calls “conflicts of interest and impropriety arising from a judge's staff employee practicing law ... and especially in a judicial chamber” must be the bottom line regarding a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice's lawyer wife/chief judicial aide accepting 18 client-referral fees from law firms over the past decade.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports such fees are routine. And, indeed, Justice Seamus P. McCaffery listed the fees of his wife, Lise Rapaport, on his financial-disclosure forms. But that doesn't allay concerns arising from him ruling on 11 cases involving law firms that paid his wife for referrals in other cases.
Mr. Justice McCaffery favored those firms' side in eight of those 11 cases — without disclosing his wife's ties to those firms from the bench. True, no state judicial rule required him to do so. But he should have recognized that his “impartiality might reasonably be questioned,” as the state Code of Judicial Conduct puts it, and recused himself, which the code urges judges in such situations to consider.
Obviously needed is more strict enforcement of a Supreme Court personnel policy that requires the chief justice's OK — which he says Ms. Rapaport didn't seek and he wouldn't have granted — before lawyers in its employ practice law.
But to fully protect their court's integrity — already severely tarnished by the public corruption conviction of suspended Justice Joan Orie Melvin — the state's top jurists must do even more by avoiding such staff entanglements, disclosing them to litigants when germane and recusing themselves whenever even a hint of conflict might exist.
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments â either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.