In another recent example of justice being blind and the law applying to everyone, a Pennsylvania magisterial district judge was charged by the Attorney General with violations of the criminal law that also probably constitute violations of legal ethical rules as well. The judge is accused of preventing a police officer from filing a criminal charge against the judge's son. The son was accused of getting into an altercation with his brother that was bad enough that the police were called and an officer filed a summary non-traffic citation, probably for Disorderly Conduct. The citation had to be filed in the jurisdiction where the offense occurred, and this incident happened to occur in the mother's judicial district. According to the online article, the judge failed to docket the citation or transfer it to another jurisdiction when it was filed in 2010. The judge finally docketed the citation 2 ½ months later after her son completed a stint in rehab.
Charges and Collateral Consequences
The judge was charged with tampering with records or identification, a first-degree misdemeanor, and obstruction of administration of law, a second-degree misdemeanor. A first-degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to 5 years incarceration and a $10,000.00 fine, and a second-degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to 2 years incarceration and a $5,000.00 fine.
Aside from the possibility of paying fines and either going to jail or being placed on probation, a conviction of the charges could result in the imposition of collateral consequences. Collateral consequences generally refer to additional penalties that are associated with a conviction but are not directly imposed by the sentencing judge, such as a loss of financial aid, license suspension, and, as in this case, possible impacts on jobs and professional licensing. As a judge, the woman is governed by ethical rules, and a violation of the ethical rules can result in relatively minor punishments such as public censure, but more severe violations could result in a lifetime prohibition from being a judge.
According to the article, the judge resigned her position, but the disciplinary process will still proceed to formally impose sanctions. According to one attorney that focuses on professional licensing issues, he does not believe that the charges and allegations will cause the judge to lose her pension. As she has been a judge since 1994, I am sure that her state pension has a relatively high monetary value and thereby is her main concern. Losing a job is difficult, but losing your state pension that has built up for 20 years is another story.
Probation Violations Can Result in Jail Time
I initially wondered why a judge would jeopardize her own career and freedom to avoid a non-traffic summary citation. I spend a great deal of my time as a State College criminal defense attorney defending Penn State students that are charged with summary offenses, but those students are striving to maintain a blemish-free criminal record. To have a 20 year judge risk her career to avoid a summary charge seemed odd. According to the article, the son was on probation, and the judge delayed the filing of the citation until after the son completed rehab. Almost all probationary sentences prohibit a person from consuming drugs or alcohol and require that the person remain free of criminal activity. In this case, with the son going to rehab, it appears that the son would have violated the no drugs and alcohol condition as well as the refrain from criminal activity provision.
I recently had a client in Centre County that was on probation and was charged with Public Drunkenness, a non-traffic summary offense. After finding that she had violated the terms of her sentence, the Bellefonte judge sentence her to serve the next 5 to 23 ½ months at the county jail. I expect that the magisterial district judge believed that it was highly likely that her son would be facing jail time if the probation department learned of the summary citation and the drug or alcohol use that was probably related thereto.
The moral of this story is that being a parent is not an easy thing, but a parent should not engage in criminal activity to help out his or her son or daughter. Now, the son will probably still be punished, and the mother ruined her career. It is possible that a criminal defense attorney could have helped the son avoid jail time or reduce it by voluntarily agreeing to go to an inpatient rehab facility.