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Suspended Pa. Supreme Court Justice McCaffery won't be charged over wife's referral fees

Natasha Lindstrom
| Friday, Oct. 24, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Pennsylvania Supreme Court members in December 2013: Front row, from left: Justice Thomas G. Saylor, Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, Justice J. Michael Eakin.  Back row, from left: Justice Seamus P. McCaffrey, Justice Max Baer, Justice Debra McCloskey Todd, Justice Correale F. Stevens
State of Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Supreme Court members in December 2013: Front row, from left: Justice Thomas G. Saylor, Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, Justice J. Michael Eakin. Back row, from left: Justice Seamus P. McCaffrey, Justice Max Baer, Justice Debra McCloskey Todd, Justice Correale F. Stevens

Federal prosecutors will not pursue criminal charges against suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery over hefty referral fees his wife received while working as her husband's chief aide, a Pennsylvania federal district court said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania put out a statement this week announcing federal prosecutors worked with the FBI to investigate potential wrongdoing related to referral fees paid in civil cases to McCaffery's wife, Lise Rappaport. She collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in referral fees while working for her husband.

“On the basis of this investigation, these agencies concluded that federal criminal charges should not be filed, and have therefore closed their investigation,” the statement said.

The federal prosecutors' decision does not directly affect an ongoing Judicial Conduct Board ethics investigation into McCaffery, 64. His colleagues voted 4-1 Monday to suspend McCaffery with pay while the Judicial Conduct Board decides whether to file formal charges of violating the state's Rules of Judicial Conduct.

“Just because, perhaps, no crime was committed doesn't mean that it wouldn't be a citation under the court of judicial conduct,” said Bruce Ledewitz, a Duquesne University law school professor.

Yet the statement makes it “very unlikely” the board will call for criminal charges related to the referral issue, and it gives McCaffery some ammunition in trying to argue that allegations against him have been overblown or misleading, Ledewitz said.

Among other matters confronting McCaffery: He sent and received 234 emails containing pornographic photographs or videos; and, allegedly, he improperly contacted a Philadelphia traffic court official about a citation issued to his wife.

On Tuesday, McCaffery and his wife dropped a defamation lawsuit filed against The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News regarding news reports on the referral compensation. The newspapers reported they agreed to publish the federal district court's statement — a development they deemed newsworthy in its own right — as part of the settlement.

It's unusual for a federal enforcement agency to issue a public statement announcing intentions not to file charges, Ledewitz said.

“I'm not familiar with the federal government doing this,” he said. “Perhaps the U.S. Attorney's Office was feeling that they had somehow been dragged into this thing, and they wanted to extricate themselves.”

He added, “I'm sure they want to stay 100 million miles away from this entire struggle.”

The high court's order Monday gave the conduct board 30 days to decide whether there's probable cause for formal misconduct charges.

Natasha Lindstrom is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8514 or nlindstrom@tribweb.com.

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