Seamus McCaffery to Inquirer: Show Your Hand
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery is demanding the Philadelphia Inquirer show its evidence for stories that prompted an FBI investigation of him — even as he steadfastly maintains his innocence of any wrongdoing.
“The investigation of Plaintiff McCaffery has not produced one shred of evidence that Plaintiff McCaffery violated any law or in any way acted unethically,” his lawyer, Dion Rassias, wrote in documents filed Wednesday with the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. “Indeed, it bears repeating: Plaintiff McCaffery has done nothing wrong, illegal, or unethical.”
McCaffery filed notice earlier this month of his intention to sue the Inquirer, following articles that claimed McCaffery’s wife and chief judicial aide, Lise Rapaport, received fees for steering cases to personal injury firms. After the articles appeared, the court adopted rules prohibiting judges from hiring relatives or sitting on corporate boards. The articles prompted an FBI investigation, McCaffery acknowledged.
The justice has not yet filed a complaint outlining specific allegations of wrongdoing by the paper. Instead, Wednesday’s filing centered on a demand that the Inquirer first detail the evidence underlying its original articles — at the heart of two paragraphs, in fact, that appeared in a March 5, 2013 story on the topic by Inky investigative reporter Craig McCoy.
As the fees have come in, McCaffery has ruled on 11 Supreme Court cases in which some of the firms tied to the fees were participants. Lawyers in the cases say the justice never disclosed the fees.
In eight of those 11 appeals, McCaffery voted in favor of the legal position advanced by the firms that had received referrals from Rapaport in other cases.
Rassias demanded that the Inquirer specify which 11 cases were referred to in those paragraphs.
“The Defendants did not identify any of the eleven cases or offer any explanation of the circumstances surrounding the cases,” he wrote. “The Defendants instead made a deliberate decision to create the false light facts and inferences — and publish them repeatedly — that Plaintiff McCaffery’s participation in these still undisclosed eleven cases was wrong.”
Rassias wrote that nine days after that article appeared, he sent a letter to the Inquirer seeking details on the 11 cases. No response was forthcoming, Rassias said.
That letter — to McCoy and Inquirer editor Bill Marimow — was included in Wednesday’s filings. In the letter, Rassias took issue with one case specifically mentioned in the story, in which Rapaport had received an $821,000 referral fee for steering a medical malpractice suit to the winning law firm.
Rassias said that when Rapaport made that referral in 2007, she “had nothing whatsoever to do with the court system. (McCaffery took office the next year, though he was running for the court in 2007.) “When lawyers are subsequently barred or suspended, or even if they become judges, they are nonetheless permitted to receive their referral fees so long as they were attorneys in good standing at the time the referrals were made and earned,” Rassias wrote, underlining the last three words. The Inquirer later acknowledged that Rapaport was not working for the court during most of 2007; she was McCaffery’s campaign manager as he campaigned for the high court.
Mark Block, a spokesman for Interstate General Media — the Inquirer’s parent company — declined comment.
The defendants in the case are Interstate General Media; Intertrust GCN, the company owned by Lewis Katz, a minority shareholder in IGM; Marimow; McCoy; Daily News editor Michael Days; and Inky editorial cartoonist Signe Wilkinson.
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