Review: No Other Improper Contact Between Court, Lawyers
Members of the state’s judicial branch and the attorney general’s office may have passed lewd emails back and forth to each other, but they didn’t improperly discuss cases under court review.
That’s the conclusion of a review commissioned after the so-called “Porngate” scandal led to the resignations and retirements of a number of high-ranking state officials this fall. Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille asked for the review.
A review of thousands of emails sent by Pennsylvania justices over five years found no improper contact with state prosecutors on pending cases, a special counsel for the Supreme Court said Friday.
A report by Pittsburgh attorney Robert Byer of Duane Morris LLP, on behalf of the high court, found “none of the email messages contained any discussion of or information related to any case in the Pennsylvania judicial system.”
Legal experts said the matter needed to be examined to rule out any “ex parte communications,” where one party in a case has contact with a judge or justice and the other party does not.
“The reason is that someone presenting a fact or argument to a judge alone does not give the other side a chance to respond to it,” said Wes Oliver, a professor at Duquesne University Law School. “Further, the fact that the judge would listen to one side alone creates an appearance of impropriety.”
“I found nothing to indicate any reason to be concerned about the court’s decision-making,” said Robert Byer, a former Commonwealth Court judge retained this fall to study about 4,800 emails between sitting Supreme Court justices and staffers at OAG.
“I think people ought to feel very confident that their Supreme Court justices are doing their jobs very appropriately.”