High court orders removal of Philly judge

May 6, 2008 6:27:41 PM PDT
Pennsylvania's highest court Tuesday removed a judge from the Philadelphia Municipal Court because she pleaded guilty 24 years ago to federal charges of using a bogus Social Security number on credit card applications. The state Supreme Court said the felonies Judge Deborah Griffin admitted committing constitute "infamous" crimes that under the Pennsylvania Constitution disqualify her from not only the judgeship to which she has twice been elected but from "any other office of trust or profit" in the state.

"We find that the public trust and public administration of justice would be adversely affected were (Griffin) to remain in judicial office," the justices said in their 4-0 ruling.

Griffin's lawyer, Samuel Stretton of West Chester, said he was "pretty upset" by the ruling and called his client's ouster for actions more than two decades ago "a tragedy." He said no appeal is possible because the high court has the final word on cases involving the state constitution.

After Griffin pleaded guilty in 1984, she was given a suspended prison sentence, placed on probation and ordered to pay $1,200 restitution. But her legal problems were only beginning.

In 1988, the Supreme Court suspended her from practicing law in Pennsylvania for two years because she falsely stated on her bar application that she had never been arrested or prosecuted for a crime.

Griffin was elected to a six-year term on the municipal court in Pennsylvania's largest city in 2001. Voters retained her for a second term in November.

During Griffin's first term, the State Judicial Conduct Board sought to have her ousted, but the Supreme Court dismissed the complaint on the grounds that the board had no standing. The complaint that prompted Tuesday's ruling was filed last year by the state attorney general's office and the Philadelphia district attorney's office.

The defense argued that Griffin's crimes involved a private commercial transaction and did not affect the administration of justice or undermine the public trust.

The justices, however, said the offenses fall into the constitutional category of "infamous" crime because they are classified as felonies, because they involve falsehoods and because of the need to protect the integrity of the courts. The justices also said Griffin failed to back up her claim that she was harmed economically by unreasonable delays in the prosecution of her case.