Pa. Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery to retire amid scandal

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Monday, October 27, 2014
VIDEO: Pa. Supreme Ct. Justice McCaffrey stepping down
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffrey has announced he is retiring in the wake of an email scandal involving pornography.

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WPVI) -- A Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice caught up in a government porn email scandal stepped down Monday after nearly eight years on the state's highest court, and a judicial ethics board said it would drop its investigation of him as a result.

Justice Seamus McCaffery also agreed not to seek senior judge status or seek elective judicial office again, the Judicial Conduct Board said.

The panel said it would end its investigation of McCaffery on a number of matters because the most serious sanctions possible were his removal from office and a prohibition against him holding future judicial office.

The judge did not issue any immediate public statement on his retirement.

The decision followed a disclosure that McCaffery had sent or received 234 emails with sexually explicit content or pornography from late 2008 to May 2012 and an accusation by a fellow justice that McCaffery had tried to coerce him into taking his side against Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille.

McCaffery, a 64-year-old former Philadelphia homicide detective, first served on the municipal court in Philadelphia, where he gained fame as the judge who meted out punishment to unruly fans at "Eagles court" inside Veterans Stadium. He later also served on a lower-level state appellate court.

A Democrat, he was elected to the high court in 2007. He would have faced a retention election in 2017 and mandatory retirement in 2020.

Asked about the justice's retirement at a speech before the Pennsylvania Press Club, Gov. Tom Corbett said: "We all have the right to retire at any time we want. He's exercised his. I'm not going to comment on that at this point in time."

Castille and three other justices voted Oct. 20 to suspend McCaffery with pay and referred the matter to the Judicial Conduct Board.

The suspension order brought up allegations that McCaffery had tried to exert influence over a Philadelphia judicial assignment and about a traffic citation received by his lawyer-wife, plus referral fees she collected from law firms while working in his chambers.

McCaffery apologized for his participation in the emails, which also involved employees of the state attorney general's office, but he claimed Castille was out to get him as part of a vendetta.

A third justice, Michael Eakin, then went public with a claim that McCaffery had threatened to leak "inappropriate" emails Eakin had received if he did not side with McCaffery against the chief justice. McCaffery denied that he had threatened Eakin.

The inappropriate emails surfaced during an internal review by the attorney general's office into how it had handled the Jerry Sandusky child molestation case. Three senior officials in Corbett's administration and a county prosecutor who all formerly worked under Corbett in the attorney general's office have resigned their government jobs as a result.

McCaffery is the third state justice in the past two decades to be leave the court in scandal, and is believed to be the first justice to have been suspended by his or her colleagues without have been charged with a crime.

Justice Rolf Larsen, who died in August, was removed from office in 1994 and was later impeached following a conspiracy conviction. He had been convicted of conspiring to accept mood-altering drugs in the names of his employees in order to hide a history of mental illness. The state Senate impeached him for voting on whether to hear cases based on input from an attorney who was also a political supporter.

Justice Joan Orie Melvin resigned as of May 1, a few days before she was sentenced to house arrest for using court and legislative employees to work on her campaigns. That sentence is on hold while she appeals. Justice Corry Stevens was named to replace her until the next judicial election.

With McCaffery's departure, voters next year will have three seats to fill on the state high court.