Sunday, September 4, 2011

Judge Stuffs Condoms into Acorns

From the newsletter (August 2011) of the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania:

 In an opinion filed August 17, 2011, the Court [of Judicial Discipline] dismissed charges against Lancaster County District Judge Isaac H. Stoltzfus for handing hollowed-out acorns stuffed with condoms to two female state employees while attending a conference in Harrisburg.[1] Without endorsing the conduct,[2] the Court looked to the case of In re Cicchetti, 697 A.2d 297 (Pa.Ct.Jud.Disc. 1997), upheld 743 A.2d 431 (Pa., 2000), to determine whether the conduct violated Canon 2A of the Rules Governing Standards of Conduct of Magisterial District Judges, which states:

Magisterial district judges shall respect and comply with the law and shall conduct themselves at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

The Court concluded that since the conduct did not occur in the course of his judicial duties,[3] and did not violate the law, it was not a violation of Canon 2.

Although the context of the decision is odd and in some (but not all) eyes humorous,[4] the Court’s decision is a substantial discussion of the application of ethical rules to conduct outside one’s official role, a serious issue with which both the judicial and attorney discipline systems have often struggled.

Here are the footnotes to this report:

 [1] We are certain that the following finding of fact is unprecedented in the annals of judicial discipline: “Respondent has collected, hollowed out, and placed unwrapped condoms inside thousands of acorns during his tenure as a Magisterial District Judge. Occasionally, Respondent utilized some condom-filled acorns in his courtroom to raise awareness of the efficacy of condom use against unplanned pregnancy and disease. However, Respondent did not hand condom-filled acorns out in his courtroom.” Finding No. 22, Page 5.

 [2]The Court states at Page 7, “We must say that Respondent’s purpose here and his preoccupation with acorns is mystifying to the Court. It is not funny and we strongly disapprove of this conduct. Although it does not rise to a violation, it certainly lacks good judgment and must not be repeated.”

 [3] “There wouldn’t be a violation of Canon 2 unless the conduct took place in the decision-making process, which it didn’t. Which it obviously didn’t.” Footnote 4, Page 8.

[4] In deference to the gravity of the matter, we have resisted the temptation to exploit the humorous potential of this story. And you thought we couldn’t.

 [5] Rich Site Summary. A/k/a Really Simple Syndication. Really.


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