Wednesday, April 10, 2019
The Legal Intelligencer reports on sanctions imposed on two former judges by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court
Former Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Angeles Roca and former Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Dawn Segal have both had their law licenses suspended for one year and one day.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued separate orders Tuesday adopting the recommendations of a three-member panel of the Disciplinary Board, which were based on joint petitions in support of discipline on consent filed by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the two ex-judges and their counsel.
A suspension of more than a year means both Segal and Roca will need to reapply to have their law licenses reinstated.
Roca and Segal were found in 2016 to have violated the state constitution and the Code of Judicial Conduct by engaging in ex parte contact with former Municipal Court Judge Joseph C. Waters Jr., who was later charged criminally and sentenced to 24 months in prison for fixing cases of political donors.
They were initially suspended from the bench before eventually being removed and barred from ever holding public office again by the Court of Judicial Discipline in December 2016.
The CJD determined that Segal violated four judicial canons and three articles of the state constitution, including prohibitions against engaging in ex parte communications, allowing others to believe they could influence her, failing to report the communications, failing to disqualify herself, and interfering with the normal operations of the court.
The charges focused on allegations that Waters contacted Segal four times, and asked for special consideration in the cases of Houdini Lock & Safe v. Donegal Investment Property Management Services, Commonwealth v. Khoury and City of Philadelphia v. Rexach, a tax enforcement case against Roca’s son, Ian Rexach.
The CJD found that Roca’s actions brought her office into disrepute, prejudiced the proper administration of justice and failed to promote confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
Roca contacted Waters in 2012, seeking to enlist his aid in having the tax enforcement complaint issued against her son dismissed, according to the CJD’s October 2016 opinion. She asked Waters to intervene in the matter by contacting Segal, which he did. Segal later told Waters that she “took care of it,” and the case was ultimately withdrawn by another judge without prejudice.
Roca, Waters and Segal were unknowingly being recorded by the FBI during their phone calls.
The joint petitions in support of discipline on consent for both Roca and Segal noted that, unlike most Pennsylvania judges who have been removed from the bench in the past, neither were ever charged with or convicted of a crime, and neither engaged in criminal conduct.
Still, the board found their cases were most closely related to that of former Lancaster County Magisterial District Judge Kelly Ballentine, who was suspended on consent for one year for dismissing her own traffic tickets in 2010 and 2011.
The board said there were differences between Ballentine’s case and those of Segal and Roca. For one, Ballentine pleaded guilty to three counts of misdemeanor tampering charges. For another, Ballentine was suspended from the bench for 15 months and placed on probation for 18 months, while Segal and Roca were both removed and barred from office.
However, the petitions said, all three former judges engaged in misconduct that benefited themselves.
“While there are variance’s between Ballentine’s and respondent’s case,” both petitions said, “in looking at all the factors, and the sanctions imposed by the Court of Judicial Discipline, there is support that a one year and one day suspension is appropriate in respondent’s case, and will subject respondent to the requirements of reinstatement pursuant to Rule 218, Pa.R.D.E.”
Roca’s attorney, Samuel Stretton of West Chester, said his client and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel had initially agreed to a one-year suspension, but the Disciplinary Board rejected that agreement.
“I thought it was wrong but it wasn’t worth fighting,” Stretton said, noting that the license reinstatement process can begin as early as eight months before the final day of suspension. “I’ll start her reinstatement in four months and I don’t think there’s any question that she’ll be reinstated.”
Counsel for Segal, Stuart Haimowitz of Philadelphia, could not immediately be reached for comment.