2017 Report & Recommendations on Improving Pennsylvania's Judicial Discipline System
Over a year ago, Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts perceived a need to re-examine Pennsylvania’s judicial disciplinary system.
Our concern stemmed from the reported misconduct of three Supreme Court justices: Joan Orie Melvin, Seamus McCaffery, and Michael Eakin, and the disciplinary cases surrounding that alleged misconduct. These cases not only exposed flaws in the integrity of our highest judicial officials, but it also exposed significant process issues within Pennsylvania’s judicial disciplinary system, leading us to question the integrity of the institutions as well as the individuals.
By focusing on the flaws and failures of both the individuals and the entities involved in these scandals specifically, and the judicial disciplinary system in general, this report explores how individual and institutional integrity within the judicial disciplinary process can be cultivated through the supporting values of ethical behavior, impartiality, accountability, openness, transparency, and fairness. It uses a chronologically-focused, factual narrative of the Melvin, McCafferty, and Eakin scandals in order to establish historical contexts for subsequent commentaries, and offers ten specific recommendations for reform. The objective is to shed light on our judicial disciplinary culture, while the ultimate focus is on pragmatic reforms that can be implemented by the Judicial Conduct Board (“JCB”), the Court of Judicial Discipline (“CJD”), and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Report and Recommendations for Improving Pennsylvania's Judicial Discipline System (2011)
The last few years have brought too many stories of Pennsylvania judges engaging in unethical behavior, violating the Code of Judicial Conduct (“the Judicial Code”), and even engaging in criminal conduct. Public trust and confidence in our courts is weakened when judges are disciplined because of unethical or improper behavior on the bench or the campaign trail and when judges face criminal charges.
What helps maintain public confidence in the face of such problems is the knowledge that: there are clear ethical rules and guidelines governing judicial behavior; judges and the public are aware of these rules; the rules are enforced; and violations of the rules are punished.
View From the Ground: A Reform Group's Perspective on the Ongoing Effort to Achieve Merit Selection of Judges
This article describes the history of judicial selection in the state of Pennsylvania. It describes the judicial selection reform movement and the growth of the organization Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts (”PMC”) which devises solutions to meet the various challenges to judicial integrity in Pennsylvania. It focuses on the merit system that PMC has been trying to achieve for Pennsylvania’s appellate courts.
On November 8, 2005, something happened in Pennsylvania that has never happened before: an appellate judge, a supreme court justice no less, lost an uncontested retention election. Not only was the loss unprecedented, but with the exception of one retention election in 1993, appellate justices and judges in Pennsylvania routinely have won retention by margins of 70% to 30%. This year, one justice lost his retention election and another barely won with just 54% of the vote. Retention elections.
Report From the Governor's Judicial Reform Commission (1988)
PMC’s founders were motivated to create a new organization following this report from the Pennsylvania Judicial Reform Commission.
Governor Robert Casey commissioned this blue-ribbon panel of civic leaders, public officials, legal professionals, and members of the judiciary. PMC Treasurer, and then a Judge on Pennsylvania's Superior Court, Judge Phyllis W. Beck chaired the committee.
The panel discovered that confidence in the judiciary was appallingly low, in large part due to the system of electing judges and the fundraising that goes along with it.
Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts is a statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to ensuring that all Pennsylvanians can come to our courts with confidence that they will be heard by qualified, fair, and impartial judges