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Former Pennsylvania Judge Charged With Stealing Cocaine Evidence

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A former western Pennsylvania judge recently was charged with theft and drug possession by the Pennsylvania State Police after allegedly stealing cocaine that had been submitted by prosecutors in drug cases. In drug possession and drug delivery cases, the prosecuting attorney must bring the drugs to court and present it as evidence at some pretrial hearings and at trial. It is alleged that the former judge, who presided over the county's specialized "Drug Court" program, requested that the police bring the evidence into court in many drug cases. The judge resigned from his judicial position over a year ago.

Pennsylvania Drug and Theft Charges

The primary charge against the judge is Conflict of Interest, in violation of 65 Pa.C.S. ยง 1103(a), a charge which I have never seen before, and I have been a State College criminal defense lawyer since 2004. The charge is a felony offense and carries a maximum sentence of 5 years incarceration and a $10,000.00 fine. Most of the remaining charges are misdemeanor offenses of theft and drug possession. There are four separate drug possession charges, which leads me to believe that the prosecution is claiming that the cocaine was stolen on at least 4 occasions. A misdemeanor charge of drug possession is punishable by up to 1 year incarceration and a $5,000.00 fine. The Theft By Unlawful Taking charges are graded as misdemeanors of the first degree and thereby carry a maximum sentence of 5 years incarceration and a $10,000.00 fine.

Collateral Consequences if Convicted - Law License and Pension

As with most people, a conviction of a criminal offense may lead to a person being fired from his job. In this case, if the judge were convicted or pleaded guilty, he almost assuredly would have been required to resign or have been fired. Section 18(d)(1) of Article V of the Pennsylvania Constitution expressly provides that "[a] justice, judge or justice of the peace may be suspended, removed from office or otherwise disciplined for conviction of a felony ...." Canon 2(A) of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides that a "judge should respect and comply with the law and should conduct himself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary." Since the judge already resigned, losing his job is not an issue.

While the judge voluntarily gave up his job, I am sure that he is less willing to forfeit his law license and pension. If the former judge is convicted of abusing his position by stealing cocaine, I am certain that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will place restrictions on the judge's law license, including a possible suspension or disbarment. Given that the judge had been working for over 30 years as a judicial officer, he would have obtained a substantial pension through the State Employee Retirement System (SERS).  A collateral consequence of a criminal conviction can result in the loss of a state employee pension. Without a doubt, the defense lawyer will be fighting hard to resolve the case in a manner that will allow the former Pennsylvania judge to keep his pension.

Need an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

In any criminal case, it is extremely important to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer that understands both the direct consequences of a conviction, meaning jail time and fines, and the collateral consequences associated with a conviction. Some lawyers focus solely on reducing jail time and ignore the fact that collateral consequences, such as loss of government loans, deportation, license suspensions, and loss of retirement pensions, may be more important overall to the client. Some clients may be better served by spending time in jail if it means that they keep their license to drive and thereby keep their job. An experienced defense attorney is able to review the case early on and develop a strategy that best serves the client's overall needs.

The former judge appears to have resigned his position last year and moved away, but he had been on the bench for the last 30 years. While the judge's former job is not a concern, if he is convicted, his law license and his state pension may be in jeopardy. I am sure that a state pension for a 30 year employee would be substantial.

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