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Court says suspended judge to receive pay

| Thursday, June 27, 2002, 12:00 p.m.

Suspended Allegheny County Judge H. Patrick McFalls Jr. will continue to receive his annual pay of $119,315 while awaiting trial on alcohol-related misconduct charges, the Court of Judicial Discipline has ruled.

The state's disciplinary court also scheduled McFalls' trial on 35 counts of judicial misconduct, impropriety and neglect for Aug. 26 in Harrisburg. Those charges include allegations that McFalls presided over official business while under the influence of alcohol. The court can impose a punishment ranging from a public reprimand to removal from office.

The eight-member court issued its ruling late Tuesday afternoon, hours after McFalls appeared before the panel, apologizing for his alcohol problems and asking to return to the bench.

"I'm disappointed in the ruling, but I look forward to going to trial," said Gregory Anthony, deputy counsel of the Judicial Conduct Board, which lodged the charges against McFalls.

The Court of Judicial Discipline also named three of its members to preside at the trial. They are Allegheny County Judge Robert Horgos; James Beasley, a Philadelphia lawyer; and Ralph Sposato, a lay person from Philadelphia. The panel will hear the case and report to the full court, which will then issue a decision.

Horgos could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Horgos and McFalls both serve on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.

"If he (Horgos) had any type of close relationship with him (McFalls), he would have to recuse himself and not serve," said G. Terry Madonna, a professor of government at Millersville University in Lancaster County. "But he might not have any relationship at all, and he might be able to be dispassionate and objective about it. Normally, there would be a heavy burden to ensure that there was no relationship that could interfere with impartiality."

Anthony contended during Tuesday's hearing that the disciplinary court was seeing a "facade," and that McFalls hadn't really rehabilitated himself.

During the hearing, McFalls, 59, of Shadyside, denied that he had been under the influence of alcohol while performing his official duties, but he admitted that he had relapsed into the use of alcohol during his personal life. McFalls' attorney, Robert Lampl, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The judge, in court filings, has said stress over publicity generated by his case and stress from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks caused him to start abusing alcohol again and to seek treatment. He has completed an in-patient treatment program and now is undergoing out-patient treatment.

McFalls also is taking Antabuse, a drug that causes illness if a person drinks alcohol. He has undergone treatment for alcoholism in 1980 and 1986.

McFalls' case has generated headlines for nearly eight months, following the firing of his three-member judicial staff. His staff then filed federal lawsuits contending the judge improperly fired them after they reported to Allegheny County court officials that McFalls had become so impaired by alcohol that he could no longer perform his judicial duties.

West Homestead police arrested McFalls in March for drunken driving. He has been placed in the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program and will have that arrest expunged if he successfully completes the program.

The Judicial Conduct Board has charged McFalls with four additional charges of misconduct for failing to recuse himself from hearing a case in which his impartiality had been questioned. The Court of Judicial Discipline has not set a hearing for those charges.

Other Allegheny County members of the court are District Justice James Russo, of Leetsdale, and Michele O'Leary, a Catholic sister of Mercy with a background in health and education. O'Leary recused herself from the case on Tuesday without offering an explanation She could not be reached for comment, nor could Russo.

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