A defense lawyer’s motion to have every Philadelphia judge recused from a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice’s lawsuit against the Philadelphia Inquirer has had at least one effect — the cancellation of a Wednesday afternoon hearing on motions in the case. Judge Nina Padilla said the recusal motion had forced her to kick the case up to a presiding judge in the district.
The hearing might’ve fizzled anyway. Lawyers were set to argue over motions requiring Justice Seamus McCaffery to file a specific complaint against the Inquirer. McCaffery’s lawyer, Dion Rassias, said after Wednesday’s short hearing that he had obtained needed information from the Inquirer to proceed with his filing.
“We’re moving full speed ahead on the complaint,” Rassias said, estimating it would be filed early next week.
Rassias was apparently the only representative of either party to attend Wednesday's hearing.
McCaffery and his wife filed notice earlier this month of his intention to sue the Inquirer. That followed articles in 2013 that detailed how McCaffery’s wife and chief judicial aide, Lise Rapaport, received fees for steering cases to personal injury firms — and that in eight of 11 appeals, McCaffery voted for the position favored by the firms that had paid Rapaport in other cases. (In at least one of the cases, Rapaport was running McCaffery’s Supreme Court election campaign at the time she made the referral.) Sprague said in his motion that he believes that at least eight Philadelphia firms were connected to those referral fees.
The reporting also quoted legal experts saying McCaffery should’ve disclosed the payments or even recused himself from the cases.
After the articles appeared, the court adopted rules prohibiting judges from hiring relatives or sitting on corporate boards. The articles also prompted an FBI investigation, McCaffery acknowledged. In court filings, however, he has asserted that he has done “nothing wrong, illegal, or unethical.” Rassias, has suggested the Inquirer’s legal experts might’ve offered differing assessments if they'd been provided different information about the cases by the newspaper.
McCaffery and his wife had not filed an official complaint specifying the Inquirer’s wrongdoing. The newspaper last week asked a judge to require McCaffery and Rapaport to do so, or see the case dismissed. Rassias responded with a motion asking the Inquirer to name the 11 firms mentioned in its reporting. Rassias said Wednesday he had received that information.