Friday, December 12, 2008

Phila. judge violated rules, court says

Pennsylvania's Court of Judicial Discipline has ruled that a Philadelphia judge violated conduct rules when he issued a "stay-away" order to help a Romanian consul cope with a bothersome neighbor without notifying the neighbor or having a hearing.

The ruling Wednesday in the case of Municipal Court Judge James M. DeLeon was not unexpected because DeLeon's attorney, Samuel C. Stretton, had said the judge was cooperating with the investigation and acknowledged the facts underlying the complaint filed in August by the state Judicial Conduct Board.

Stretton said yesterday he would file an objection to one of the state court's findings: that DeLeon "engaged in conduct which brings the judicial office into disrepute."

"I'm really disappointed with the finding on the disrepute issue," Stretton said. "I honestly don't think this is a disrepute case. It was a case of bad judgment . . . but there was no personal gain or profit involved."

Stretton has 10 days to file objections. Once they are resolved, the case would go to a sanctions phase. The court has the power to impose private or public censures, suspension, removal from office, and prohibitions on future judicial employment.

The Judicial Conduct Board's complaint resulted from an August 2005 social event in Center City involving the Romanian community.

During the reception, the complaint reads, DeLeon, 61, a Municipal Court judge for 20 years, was introduced to George Sfedu, a Rittenhouse Square resident who had the honorary post of Romania's consul general to the city.

As they were talking, the complaint reads, Sfedu told DeLeon about problems he had with a neighbor who was having "unwanted verbal contact" with his teen daughter.

When Sfedu told the judge he "wanted this contact to cease," the judge suggested that Sfedu's wife, Center City lawyer Susan E. Satkowski, should call his chambers to get a "stay-away order."

Satkowski did so on Sept. 7, 2005, and, according to the complaint, DeLeon issued the order barring the neighbor from any direct or indirect verbal or physical contact with the girl or her family "except through an attorney."

When the neighbor learned of the order, the complaint reads, he hired a lawyer who wrote to DeLeon, questioning its propriety.

DeLeon then ordered the neighbor and his attorney to appear before him, at which time the judge signed an order vacating the stay-away order. The judge did not contact Sfedu or Satkowski about the hearing or record the new order vacating the earlier one.

The Court of Judicial Discipline's 12-page opinion and order determined that DeLeon conducted an improper proceeding by "failing to accord all persons who were legally interested in the proceedings a full right to be heard."

The court ruled that DeLeon's conduct brought his judicial office into disrepute, undermined the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, and lent the prestige of his office "to advance the private interests of others."

No comments: