Share This Page

Fees paid to Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice's wife questioned

| Monday, March 4, 2013, 8:00 p.m.

During the past decade, the wife of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery — his chief judicial aide — has received 18 payments as referral fees for connecting law firms with clients.

In the most recent payment, McCaffery's wife, lawyer Lise Rapaport, received $821,000 — her fee from a settlement in a multimillion-dollar medical malpractice case.

Court records and McCaffery's state-mandated public financial disclosure forms list the 18 instances in which his wife received a referral fee.

A lawyer for the couple, and attorneys with the firms, say the fees were routine and proper.

But the high court's chief justice, Ronald D. Castille, questioned Rapaport's making referrals, as did some legal experts.

Castille said they raised the potential for “conflicts of interest and the appearance of impropriety arising from a judge's staff employee practicing law while receiving fair compensation while employed in a judicial chamber, and especially in a judicial chamber.”

Castille and McCaffery have been bitterly at odds in recent months, personally and professionally.

As the fees have come in, McCaffery has ruled on 11 Supreme Court cases in which some of the firms tied to the fees were participants. Lawyers in the cases say the justice never disclosed the fees.

In eight of those 11 appeals, McCaffery voted in favor of the legal position advanced by the firms that had received referrals from Rapaport in other cases.

Referral fees are normal practice in Pennsylvania. An attorney who refers a client to a firm shares in any eventual settlement or award. It is typically one-third of the primary law firm's contingency fee, which is one-third. There is no requirement in Pennsylvania that the referring lawyer perform any work on the case.

State judicial rules do not specifically require state Supreme Court justices to disclose from the bench that a family member has received such referral payments.

There is no indication that any of the cases in which McCaffery participated were ones in which his wife had received a referral fee.

His participation apparently occurred in appeals in other cases involving various lawyers from the firms, either as litigants or in friend-of-the court briefs.

The state Code of Judicial Conduct says judges should, in general, consider recusing themselves when their “impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

However, the code says the fact that a spouse is affiliated with the firm in a case before the court “does not of itself” disqualify the judge.

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 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.