War in the Supreme Court: Ron Castille and Seamus McCaffery Just Can’t Get Along

As allegations of impropriety pile up against Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery, the real story may be his strained relationship with Chief Justice Ron Castille. Here, the inside tale of the very personal feud that’s tearing the state’s highest court apart.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille and Justice Seamus McCaffery can't seem to get along.

Late last year, Ron Castille, chief justice of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, decided he couldn’t take it any longer. Seamus McCaffery—one of seven justices on the court, and the only other one from Philadelphia—had been including a certain tag line on emails he sent from his court account. Courtesy of Ernest Hemingway, the tag line read: “Certainly there is no hunting like the hunting of a man and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never generally care for anything else thereafter.”

McCaffery, a former Marine, a former Philly cop, a guy who carries a gun and rides a Harley, takes great pride in his toughness. But Castille could no longer abide the bluster, the preening. He himself lost his right leg while serving in Vietnam—on his 23rd birthday, no less—and he was once a hard-ass prosecutor in Philadelphia’s D.A.’s office before becoming D.A. himself. He knew all about toughness.

So last fall, Castille sent McCaffery an email, one on which he cc’d their fellow justices. It read, in part:

Your military service while honorable, did not involve combat action against armed enemy forces as did my service as a Rifle Platoon Commander in the Marines in Vietnam. In fact, I did “hunt” armed men and I can tell you and your email recipients that it is a nasty, dirty business and, while sometimes required by national policy, it is not an activity to be extolled, especially by anyone who does not have the personal experience in the activity.

Castille knew, of course, that sharing his email with the other justices would be highly embarrassing to McCaffery. He didn’t care. His feelings about the man had been building for some time, and their relationship had been deteriorating.

It would soon get worse.

At the end of last year, in a report Castille commissioned about Philadelphia’s corrupt Traffic Court, McCaffery was accused of using his power in an unseemly and perhaps illegal way: He had driven his wife, Lise Rapaport, to Traffic Court on Spring Garden Street for a hearing on a ticket and, while the hearing took place, summoned a top court administrator out to his car for a conversation. Rapaport was found not guilty.

With Ron Castille’s blessing, the Traffic Court report was given to the Inquirer, which did a series of front-page stories on it. Naturally, that didn’t sit well with Seamus McCaffery, who has denied any wrongdoing.

Then a second matter came up. The Inquirer wrote about fees that Rapaport, a Harvard-trained lawyer, received for referring cases to law firms while she was employed by McCaffery as his chief Supreme Court aide. Eleven of the law firms that paid Rapaport—one referral fee was $821,000—have argued cases before the Supreme Court while McCaffery has been on the bench.

When that story broke, Castille—who was first elected to the court in 1993 and has been chief justice since 2008—told reporters he was worried about “conflicts of interest and the appearance of impropriety.” His opinion wasn’t shocking, but it was an unusual slapdown; chief justices of a Supreme Court almost never publicly rebuke a fellow robesman. What’s more, there was the question of how the Inquirer suddenly landed on the Rapaport referral-fee story when those payments, which McCaffery’s lawyer said were routine and proper, had long been a matter of public record. While Castille denies alerting the paper to the story, he probably was not unhappy that McCaffery was being embarrassed.

In mid-June, McCaffery’s trouble seemed to grow worse. The Inquirer reported that the FBI had opened an investigation into those referral fees his wife received. Meanwhile, the Legal Intelligencer wrote that McCaffery had contacted a high-level Philadelphia Common Pleas administrator last year about civil cases—and that in two of the cases, a law firm that had paid a referral fee to Lise Rapaport was involved. McCaffery’s lawyer says there is no FBI investigation, but Ron Castille told WHYY that he has “no reason to believe the allegations of an FBI investigation against Justice McCaffery are not true.” He added, “So I think if I was Justice McCaffery, I’d start rethinking my position on the Supreme Court.”

We still don’t know how Seamus McCaffery’s problems will play out. But one thing is patently clear: This is war, between Ron and Seamus. It is ugly. McCaffery now actively avoids his chief justice, having as little to do with him as possible. Which is fine by Ron Castille, who seems determined to help get “Famous Seamus,” his nickname for McCaffery, into as much trouble as he can.

According to sources close to the court (more than 50 people were interviewed for this story), the feud is, in part, about power. One of the roles the state Supreme Court plays is to oversee Philadelphia’s judiciary—a job handled by a justice who’s appointed by colleagues as liaison to the First Judicial District. Given his two decades as a Philly cop and his decade on the city’s Municipal Court bench, not to mention his natural bent for schmoozing union guys and City Councilmen with equal aplomb, McCaffery has long seen himself as the perfect guy for that job. Indeed, he’s craved it ever since he was elected to the court in 2007, once telling a court insider that he didn’t run for the Supreme Court to sit in an office and write legal opinions; no, he wanted to oversee Philadelphia’s courts.

But Ron Castille kept the role of liaison for himself even when he became chief justice, though the chief was far too busy for the position. The reason he kept it, McCaffery believes, was to block him from getting it. He’s sure it’s personal.

And he may be right about that, because Ron Castille thinks that “Famous Seamus” is a poseur, a phony, a made-up person. What’s more, Castille believes that McCaffery wants to rule a political fiefdom in Philadelphia. A judge, however—by decree of the state’s ethics code—can’t be involved in politics. He must stay above the fray of raising money for elections, and ward meetings and the like. Especially a justice of the Supreme Court, which oversees all the other courts in Pennsylvania. In a way, that issue, too, is personal between the two men, because Castille the war hero believes fervently in a certain bottom line, in playing by the rules.

And then there is the reputation of the court itself. For decades the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has been something of a joke—a place known for petty squabbles and occasional outright corruption. Earlier this year, justice Joan Orie Melvin resigned after being convicted of using taxpayer resources for campaign purposes. Even Castille himself tarnished the court’s reputation with his bungled handling of the construction of a new Family Court building in Philadelphia.

In Castille’s remaining time as chief justice—he’s required by law to retire next year, when he turns 70, though a federal lawsuit has been filed that would allow him to stay on longer—he seems determined to do everything he can to protect the court’s reputation and, by extension, his own legacy. If that means going to war with Seamus McCaffery, then that’s what Ron Castille is quite willing to do.

They have more in common than you might think.

Ron Castille was a balls-to-the-wall prosecutor, back in the day. He says now that it was his favorite job, and no wonder. He argued many felony cases before Common Pleas judge James McDermott, who would later serve on the state Supreme Court and whose seat there Castille would fill in 1994. But back in the ’70s, it was a different game—a game of putting bad guys away. Castille had a habit of taking off his prosthetic leg during one particular defense attorney’s closing arguments and slapping that leg, none too lightly, on the table before him. What that would do, of course, was rivet the jury on Castille instead of on the defense lawyer, who would demand a sidebar discussion with Judge McDermott:

“Your Honor, would you please ask the prosecutor to put his leg back on?”

“Are you aware that the prosecutor is a war hero, Counselor?”

“I am.”

“That he gave his leg for the country?”

Suffice it to say, there would be no admonishment from Judge McDermott to prosecutor Castille.

His injury was useful to him. So was his s­wagger—the war hero who’d lost a leg and went around on crutches wearing a suede cowboy hat. There was a bit of Seamus in Ron, at least in the early days.

Tough-guy derring-do—it’s an image that Seamus McCaffery, six years younger than Castille, laps up. He loves to tell stories, and beams before any audience, his large shaved head fairly glowing. He has many stories. The stories all have a central character—Seamus McCaffery himself.

There’s the story, for example, of the time when he was a Municipal Court judge in Philly and saw a man named Gregory Weedman bolt—un-handcuffed!—from a police van at Front Street. The judge chased him in his car, then suddenly swung his vehicle around, à la Steve McQueen, to block Weedman; a cop on foot nabbed him.

Or the story of how McCaffery leaped down off the bench in Municipal Court to knock out a punk defendant who got out of control. Or the time he jumped off his Harley and drew his revolver to scare off a bunch of truck-jackers, who fled like cockroaches.

These stories about McCaffery drive Castille nuts. In his cluttered office at 19th and Market, he isn’t going to give too much away, or certainly not more than he wants to; even his longtime friends say much about Castille remains a mystery. Because of that inwardness, when he does let you in, with a small cat-ate-the canary smile, it is powerful.

“Seamus is not a person shy about pushing his own reputation,” he says. And then, a few minutes later: “Seamus holds himself as a Marine, but he’s never been in combat, unless you want to say driving around the streets of Philadelphia”—for a time, when he was a cop, McCaffery was a captain’s driver—“is the real McCoy. I had been in combat.”

On his 23rd birthday, in a rice paddy in South Vietnam, while trying to evacuate Marines under fire, Lieutenant Castille was shot in the right leg. A soldier in his command, Angel Mendez, dragged him to safety but was killed. The helicopter evacuating Castille got hit, and shrapnel tore the leg open further. Castille wouldn’t sign a paper authorizing amputation, but his leg was removed anyway.

Back home, morbidly depressed, he recovered for months in Philadelphia’s Naval Hospital, then refused to leave when he was finally discharged. What saved him this time—psychically—was skiing; he and other amputees were taught to ski on one leg at Pine Hill in New York. “It gave me the feeling that life was not over,” Castille says.

He still suffers from phantom pain, a stabbing sensation in the ankle that he lost. Years ago, Castille learned to hypnotize himself by placing a dime in the palm of his hand and zeroing in on it. But it no longer works, because, he says, “I can’t stop thinking about all the stuff I have to do.” His office overflows with piles of paper, and he takes a mountain of it down to his boat, the Sea Questered, docked in Somers Point, on weekends.

The rumor mill is full of stories of Castille’s drinking, to dull his pain or perhaps because he likes to drink, and he can often be found bellied up to the bar during happy hour at Smith & Wollensky. But a friend who knows him well insists the drinking isn’t problematic. And he never, this friend and others say, complains about his war injury.

In 1991, Castille, then D.A., would run for mayor in the Republican primary against Frank Rizzo, who was attempting a comeback. Castille was warned by insiders that Rizzo would play dirty, but the D.A. was the rare Republican who’d been voted into a high-level job in a major American city, and he had a 24-point lead in the polls. Castille was something of a golden boy.

Then Rizzo got busy. He accused Castille of being a gun-wielding crazy, based on a cop getting called to Castille’s home in East Falls late one night to find an allegedly drunk D.A. waving his .45-caliber pistol, and Castille’s offer at a birthday party to shoot out the candles with his gun. The veracity of those accusations was shaky, but not the effect: Rizzo wiped him out in the primary before dropping dead of a heart attack two months later.

Castille now pooh-poohs the impact of Rizzo-style politics, but the pain still comes through. “I used to carry a Daily News article with the headline RIZZO LIED,” he says. (Rizzo had been challenged by a reporter about an accusation of bribery, offered to take a lie detector test, and flunked it.) “And there was a quote about me from Rizzo: ‘the best D.A. the city ever had,’ from a radio show. I had a tape.” What made Rizzo change his tune about Castille? Politics, of course.

Castille would rebound when he ran for state Supreme Court. Bored in private practice, he got a call one day in the early ’90s from Anne Anstine, of the city GOP.

“Ron,” she said, “we’re looking for a candidate to run for the Supreme Court.”

“I’d be happy to help you out,” he said.

“You don’t understand,” Anstine said. “The candidate we want is you.”

Seamus McCaffery can—and often does—boast an even broader arc of a life story.

He immigrated from Ireland, settling in Philadelphia at age five. Seamus grew up in Germantown, joined the Marines out of high school, then became a Philadelphia beat cop and later a homicide detective. Early on, though, he wanted to be a judge. It frustrated him that cases against bad guys would get messed up, and punks would walk.

It took 11 years of night school to get a B.A. and a master’s from La Salle and a law degree from Temple. McCaffery practiced environmental law at a small firm, then won a spot on Municipal Court in 1993.

From the start, McCaffery’s courtroom was performance theater, with him meting out tough justice as if nothing pleased him more. A sheriff would escort yet another repeat visitor before him, to be met with:

“Remember what I told you? My favorite four-letter word is J-A-I-L.”

In 1997, McCaffery became famous for setting up an ad hoc court in Veterans Stadium to deal with the scores of fistfights that would break out during Eagles games; drunks were tried and fined on the spot. McCaffery would be offered his own Judge Seamus-style TV show, which he turned down, though he was still generally considered something of a grandstanding joke. Yet the Eagles Court, which was disbanded in 2003, put a huge dent in fan violence at games.

Dispensing justice in a high-profile forum fit him perfectly, because McCaffery is much more an out-and-about presence, with wonderful press-the-flesh political skills, than an adjudicator mulling the fine points of law. Some local pols think he should have taken a shot at becoming mayor. Or even governor.
But back then, when he was still a Municipal Court judge, McCaffery had a particular judicial goal in mind: a seat on the state’s Supreme Court. There, he could have a bigger impact on his city.

 

Castille and McCaffery didn’t know each other well when the latter was elected to the Supreme Court in 2007. But they rubbed each other wrong from the start. As chief justice, Castille took on too much, McCaffery believed; he didn’t move fast enough. When he came onto the court, McCaffery had been eager to work with Castille, especially on issues that would help their city. But Castille ignored McCaffery’s ideas.

For example: In Luzerne County, two Common Pleas judges were being paid off by the owner of two private juvenile facilities; the judges were giving youths with minor legal problems particularly harsh sentences in order to build business at the facilities. The Juvenile Law Center petitioned the Supreme Court in April 2008 to look into the violation of the kids’ civil rights, a petition the court sat on for months. McCaffery pushed and pushed Castille, told him the court needed to do something, needed to act.

“You’re not a fucking cop anymore,” the chief justice admonished him.

McCaffery offered to move to Luzerne County to personally untangle the mess. Castille ignored him.

The Supreme Court finally denied the law center’s petition without comment. Only when charges against the judges became public several months later did the court reconsider. That’s also when Castille got publicly enraged at the judges’ behavior.

This was exactly what would continue to drive McCaffery crazy: Castille controls too much. Administrative problems fester.

“Ron was never secretive when I was with him on the court,” says Sandra Newman, who served with Castille from 1997 to ’06. “But being chief justice changes things. There are far more administrative duties.” Castille says that as chief, his workload has doubled.

The chief justice’s secrecy and control bother the rest of the court, too. He authorized releasing the Traffic Court report—the one that now has McCaffery in trouble—to the Inquirer without first giving the other justices a heads-up. Last January, Castille was stripped by his fellow justices of his position as liaison to Philadelphia’s courts. McCaffery didn’t get the position, though; the other justices made their colleague Mike Eakin, from Cumberland County, liaison instead.

In one way, however, the two Philadelphia justices partnered, at least for public consumption. When the Inquirer exposed the woeful performance of the city’s courts in 2009, Castille was initially skeptical. But he brought in Bill Chadwick, his former first assistant when he was D.A., to check it out and write a report, and Chadwick confirmed the Inky’s findings: If you committed a violent crime in Philadelphia, the chances you’d be convicted of it were small.

McCaffery had been pushing for change in the court system for years. When the Inquirer series came out, he bought copies at his Wawa and mailed them to his fellow justices. Here was his chance; he wanted the entire court behind him. Chadwick and McCaffery and his wife Lise Rapaport worked together and came up with a broad report, which would lead to myriad changes. One reorganized how prosecutors are assigned throughout the city. Another involved dealing with lesser crimes faster, which has decreased the backlog of cases—long a huge problem.

We should all stand and applaud: Many longtime Philly lawyers and judges are stunned at the effectiveness of the ov­erhaul—at how quickly and efficiently the big ocean liner of a system was turned and sent in a new direction. “They did some remarkable things,” says Ben Lerner, a Common Pleas judge. “I wish they could work together more often. It was good for everybody.”

But that initiative is the last and only time Ron Castille and Seamus McCaffery worked well together. Now, as the overhaul continues, with organizational changes coming in the city’s courts, McCaffery isn’t part of it.

Because the die was cast early on: McCaffery wasn’t going to get what he really wanted, the link to his natural Philadelphia power base, that liaison position. Castille would make sure of that. So McCaffery was stuck, a subordinate who needs to run his own show, and he got highly frustrated. But he would see his opening when a scandal hit Castille.

A few years ago, Castille partnered with a lawyer named Jeff Rotwitt to develop a new Family Court building in Philadelphia, which was desperately needed. But in 2010, the Inquirer exposed something ugly: Rotwitt was double-dipping—getting paid $55,000 a month by the Philly courts at the same time he collected some $825,000 as a consultant to the developer of the site.

Castille claims he didn’t know anything about that. Regardless, the outcry got vicious. There were calls for Castille’s resignation; Inky cartoonist Tony Auth drew him as if captured in a full-body scan, harboring sacks of cash.

But within that crisis was an opportunity—for Seamus McCaffery.

He had been complaining for some time about his boss, and not quietly. Some of it got back to Castille: how McCaffery said that he was arrogant, that he shut the other justices out of projects, that he didn’t respect McCaffery, and, most important, that he continued to block McCaffery from becoming liaison for the Philadelphia courts. McCaffery will never be chief justice, because getting there is based on seniority, and four other justices have more. Yet Castille still kept McCaffery from his rightful place.

But maybe, if Castille was in enough trouble over the Family Court project …

As one Castille insider puts it, Seamus McCaffery was “dancing on Ron’s head” when it looked, for a time, as though the chief justice was facing career disaster.

To say that the Family Court dustup was painful for Castille, that it harked back to Rizzo publicly trying to destroy him, misses how deeply hurt he was this time. Rizzo, in Castille’s current estimation, was “a jerk.” But that was merely politics, Bambino hardball. This was the city’s paper of record hammering away that the chief justice of the state Supreme Court was a crook.

His close friends watched as a certain humility hit Castille, given that his reputation was suddenly shattered. He called his ex-wife, Judy. “All I wanted to do was build a new building,” he told her quietly. “All I was trying to do was something good.”

Now, with McCaffery so palpably hopeful that the Family Court mess would be his avenue to the post of liaison to Philadelphia, he became even tougher for Castille to stomach: the bluster, the Harley, the shaved head, the tough-guy ex-Marine who never dodged a bullet in combat. The very essence of McCaffery clearly rubs the chief justice raw. And that this guy would be reveling during Castille’s deep trouble—well, it made McCaffery’s ambition downright impossible to take.

The Family Court crisis passed. But the antipathy between the justices was deepening.

“I have always said,” Ron Castille tells me in his office, “that Seamus McCaffery has too many friends in the First Judicial District and too many enemies in the First Judicial District. It’s a problem to have someone that close to the system in charge of it.”

The chief justice is talking about the risk of McCaffery becoming liaison to the Philadelphia courts. He’s not alone in his concern.

One Philadelphia judge says that after he gave a verdict in a particular case not long ago, Supreme Court Justice McCaffery called him to chew him out for the decision he rendered. The judge says a call like that is dead wrong, an obvious attempt at intimidation. (Through his lawyer, McCaffery denies ever speaking to other judges about their cases.)

Another judge in Philadelphia says that employees of the courts are afraid of McCaffery; others in the system say the same thing. The judge laughs darkly over how far the demand of allegiance to McCaffery stretches: “I think that people think that not only does he give rewards and punishment, but if you’re on the wrong side, that friends of his enemies automatically become his enemies.”

Further, one of Ron Castille’s prime fears—that Seamus McCaffery is trying to build a political power base through the city’s courts—is an accepted notion in local Democratic politics; the real question is whether McCaffery is involved in politics now, as a sitting judge, which would be in direct violation of the state ethics act.

Bernice Hill is a Democratic ward leader in the Northeast, where Seamus McCaffery lives. I ask her if McCaffery is, in fact, involved in ward politics. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to give that out for a Supreme Court justice,” she says. “I don’t want to answer any questions like that. I didn’t say he isn’t, I didn’t say he is.”

That’s not exactly a shining confirmation of the justice’s distance from politics, though it proves nothing. Yet two visits that Ron Castille has been paid in his office, by two important players in the city’s political culture, cast a much sharper light on whether Seamus McCaffery is politicking.

Castille himself says that District Attorney Seth Williams came to him during the 2009 D.A.’s race—in which Williams and Seamus’s brother Dan were both candidates—with a complaint: Seamus McCaffery was holding ward meetings at his house in Northeast Philadelphia. Castille told Williams that he could take his complaint to the judicial conduct board, and that perhaps he had an obligation to do just that.

Did Williams’s complaint seem like a big deal to him?

Castille shrugs. “I have confidence [in a fellow justice] until there’s a charge,” he says. This is cat-ate-the-canary Ron: He wants it known that Williams came to him and why, and that’s all he’ll say about that. “I didn’t have personal knowledge,” the chief justice says. “It was hearsay.” (Williams didn’t respond to requests for comment, and through his lawyer, McCaffery denies holding ward meetings at his house during his brother’s run for D.A., or, for that matter, any involvement in ward politics while he’s been a Supreme Court justice.)

And then there is Bob Brady’s letter.

In late 2009—just after the November election in which Dan McCaffery lost his bid to become D.A.—Seamus and Congressman Bob Brady, the city’s Democratic Party honcho, got into a shouting match at a party event. “The party didn’t do the right thing!” Seamus McCaffery yelled at him, according to Brady. “He was disturbed that his brother lost,” Brady says. “We talked about jobs”—getting people jobs within the court system in the city. “I wanted [Seamus] to be helpful, to help me get job postings. He said, ‘What happened with my brother?’ I thought I was going to be punished for not helping certain people. I walked out.”

And then Brady—angry himself—penned a letter that he brought to Ron Castille. Dated December 1, 2009, it was written on the letterhead of the Democratic County Executive Committee of Philadelphia, for the city’s Democratic ward leaders. It reads:

I am writing to inform you that from this date forward any employment request you have concerning the Philadelphia court system (Common Pleas, Municipal, or Traffic Court) you contact Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery.

Information that you should be aware of … After meeting with him I was told by the Justice that if you or your ward did NOT support his brother Daniel for election for District Attorney that he would NOT entertain any employment request that you may have. Also, any elected officials that did NOT raise money for the election of Jack Panella to the Supreme Court, their requests for employment would also NOT be granted.

Yours Truly,

Chairman Robert A. Brady

The letter doesn’t mean what it says, of course; Brady didn’t want ward leaders going to Seamus McCaffery for jobs. Instead, it was a pointed threat: If Brady did send the letter to the city’s Democratic ward leaders, and the letter then became public knowledge, that would be highly embarrassing to the court.

In other words, Bob Brady brought it to Ron Castille so that Castille would stop McCaffery from taking away Brady’s influence in procuring jobs in the courts.

Castille asked Brady not to send the letter. Brady says now that he went to McCaffery a few days after seeing Castille and showed him the letter; he claims they cleared up what was “a misunderstanding.” (Through his lawyer, McCaffery also claims the letter “was drafted in error based on a miscommunication.”)

Brady concedes that he wrote the letter because he thought there would “not be jobs for certain people” after his argument with McCaffery. “But I made a mistake,” Brady says. “I read him wrong. He wasn’t saying he wasn’t giving jobs to people who didn’t support his brother”—though in fact Brady’s letter is quite specific about exactly that—“and he reminded me that he’s not the liaison, that he’s out of politics. We squared that up. I’m glad we cleared that up. He’s my friend.”

Then Brady wonders what is going on, with a four-year-old letter, never sent, surfacing now: “Is Castille trying to destroy Seamus?”

When Chief Justice Ron Castille walks me to his outer office high above Market Street after we talk, we review the portraits of robed men lining a wall: James Logan, William Allen, Benjamin Chew—chief justices of Pennsylvania back in the 18th century. The portraits are respectful—no, reverential, in grand English tradition. Ron Castille, too, will have his portrait hung.

It is important to him, his legacy, and it’s something the current mess of his court threatens. But there looms a deeper question, beyond two justices fighting: How, at the end of the day, do we judge the actual work of Ron Castille’s Supreme Court?

On the level of adjudicating of cases from the bench, this Supreme Court is generally judged to be talented enough. Castille is a writer by nature—he edited his college paper at Auburn long ago, before he shipped off to Vietnam, and once considered a career in journalism; he’s much more of a legal wonk than he’s generally given credit for. Sam Stretton, a longtime Philadelphia defense lawyer who has argued many cases before the court, says the legal opinions emanating from both the Castille and McCaffery chambers are well-considered; both justices have strong staffs.

“And it is a mistake to underestimate Seamus McCaffery,” Stretton warns; he has seen the judge grow, and seem to become more even-handed. More judicial.

But given the ugliness of the Castille-McCaffery feud, you have to wonder what effect it has on the way the two men work.

Take, for example, the oral arguments of the Supreme Court during a hearing on the voter ID law last September. It was a spirited debate, as the three Democrats on the court—McCaffery, Debra Todd and Max Baer—worked to get Castille to be a swing vote to their side and delay implementation of the law until after November’s election. At one point, McCaffery cited a legislator who claimed the law would ensure that Mitt Romney won the state’s 20 presidential electors. “What’s the hurry?” McCaffery wondered. “Could it be politics, maybe? Do we have maybe one of the leaders in the Legislature standing up and saying that now it enables a certain person to win?”

At which point Chief Justice Castille, clearly peeved, said, “Is there a question, Justice McCaffery?”

The problem with a moment like that is that it’s impossible to know what to make of it: Were Castille and McCaffery simply teasing out a legal argument, or was McCaffery baiting Castille into annoyance? Was Castille trying to cow McCaffery into silence?

Lately, observers say, McCaffery has changed on the bench. He has stopped engaging in arguments the way he once did, which is diametrically opposed to his nature. McCaffery loves to argue.

Moreover, the dearth of leadership from our highest court at a time when the legal profession is rapidly evolving, when huge law firms and technology and specialization raise many questions about the future of the practice of law—that’s a huge problem.

Ed Rendell—who has known both Ron Castille and Seamus McCaffery for decades—nails the inability of this court to offer guidance for the profession’s future: “It is difficult to do groundbreaking things without collegiality,” he says. That is, a court walking on eggshells because justices can’t get along is clearly not going to come together to lead the state’s legal community into a new day.

Once, Seamus McCaffery sent his f­ellow justices the Sunday Inquirer that delved into the mess of jurisprudence in this city, in order to rally support to make it better. Now, he’s been pushed out of the process, as major work still needs to be done on our courts, as Mike Eakin of Cumberland County takes over as our man on the Supremes. Our liaison. Eakin has already announced that he’s going to be hands-off, which is certainly not the answer.

Relationships matter. And a relationship is at the heart of what’s wrong with Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court.

Over two hours, Ron Castille becomes most passionate in his anger when he thinks of that Hemingway tag line Seamus McCaffery included on his emails: Certainly there is no hunting like the hunting of a man . …

“A person sending emails who has never done it,” Castille says, his reedy voice rising, “and I had done it, and I do care about a lot of things other than hunting my fellow man.” He reads from his own email excoriating McCaffery: “If you had ever had one of your own men die in your arms from enemy gunfire, like Corporal Angel Mendez died in my arms, you would not be extolling the false bravado of Hemingway.”

Meanwhile, Seamus McCaffery is trying a radical new tactic: silence.

  • Michael Ochoa

    #UPMCrecycles