Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille says fellow Justice Seamus McCaffery should reconsider his position on the court after reports surfaced that the FBI is investigating McCaffery's conduct.
You may remember that McCaffery was cited in a November report as having met with a Traffic Court administrator the day his wife's moving violation was dismissed. Sources have confirmed yesterday's report by the Inquirer's Craig McCoy that the FBI is now investigating McCaffery over another matter — fees his wife received for referring cases to law firms while she was working on her husband's court staff.
I spoke to Castille late yesterday. He said he has "no reason to believe the allegations of an FBI investigation against Justice McCaffery are not true."
Castille said McCaffery's conduct is troubling — and a problem for the court.
"It's a distraction to the Supreme Court and an embarrassment to our court also," Castille said. "So I think if I was Justice McCaffery, I'd start rethinking my position on the Supreme Court."
Rethinking his position? I asked Castille if he was saying McCaffery should consider whether he should remain on the court at all.
"Yeah, well, you know you have the FBI allegedly investigating this, and you have the traffic thing with his wife," he said. "You know we have to have the trust of the citizens, and if citizens think that various justices are doing improper or unethical acts, or even illegal acts, then that's really bad for the court system."
I asked Castille if he and his fellow justices might take some disciplinary action on their own with respect to McCaffery.
"We did take action against [Justice Joan] Orie Melvin when she was indicted by the district attorney of Allegheny County," Castille said. "So that's not improper or impossible."
OK, I said. Given that he's troubled by McCaffery's conduct, does he think the court should discipline McCaffery?
"Yeah, well our court is going to discuss this matter seriously, as we have discussed the Traffic Court matter," he said. "I can't get into the specifics of our discussions, but we are concerned. I'm concerned."
Neither Justice McCaffery nor his attorney, Dion Rassias, returned my calls. Rassias has said the fees in question are legal and proper.
What happens now?
The court could do something or do nothing about the McCaffery affair. Antipathy between Castille and McCaffery, both justices from Philadelphia, has been widely reported. It will be interesting to see how the other four justices (and whomever replaces the fallen Joan Orie Melvin) feel about the rivalry and the merits of the matter.
The FBI investigation will take its course, but that could last for years. The feds hurry for no one. The probe of former state Sen. Vince Fumo took nearly four years, but resulted in a devastating case and a long prison term.
Another possibility is that state Judicial Conduct Board could investigate and bring disciplinary charges, which would be heard by the state Court of Judicial Discipline.
Those who know this world better than I do say all the players in the disciplinary system are political appointees and political actors. So how and whether they or the justices act will be influenced by how much public attention the issue gets, and whether outrage builds.
So far, there hasn't been an excessive amount of either. But that could change.
Federal authorities declined comment on the McCaffery probe.