Did Tarnished Philly Judge Violate Code of Conduct by Donating to Trump?
You’d think Philadelphia Common Pleas Senior Judge Allan Tereshko would play it safe nowadays, after what happened four years ago.
Back in 2012, a judge on the Pennsylvania Superior Court chastised Tereshko for failing to disclose that his wife had worked for a law firm that represented a defendant in one of his cases. She said he had “failed in his personal responsibility” and that it was “his duty to disclose that information.” Tereshko then resigned from his position as supervising judge of the city’s civil cases in disgrace.
Now it looks like Tereshko has stepped in it again: He donated $1,000 to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign this year, which appears to be a violation of the state’s Judicial Code of Conduct.
Tereshko, a 72-year-old registered Democrat, made four donations of $250 each to Trump, on June 23rd, July 23rd, August 22nd and September 27th, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Pennsylvania’s Code of Judicial Conduct states that a judge cannot “make a contribution to a political organization or a candidate for public office” unless he is running for election himself. Tereshko is not currently a candidate: He ran for and won a term on the bench in 2013. When Tereshko turned 70, the state’s retirement age for judges, he become a part-time senior judge, according to President Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper’s office. He still oversees cases in that role.
Tereshko did not respond to repeated requests for comment. The address listed in the campaign finance data is the same one Tereshko used to register as a candidate with the Pennsylvania Department of State in 2013. The FEC reports also list the donor’s occupation as “judge.”
David Thornburgh, president of government watchdog Committee of Seventy, said the contribution by Tereshko “seems … expressly forbidden.”
Maida Milone, president and CEO of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said the rule banning donations by sitting judges “is a very important part of the Code of Judicial Conduct and one that should be adhered to by all.”
Pennsylvania is one of only six states in the country that elects all of its judges. Suzanne Almeida, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, suggested that this donation highlights the flaws of that doing that: “The League believes that judges should not be politicians and should not be elected, and anything that moves the judge out of the realm of nonpartisanship and unbiased behavior and closer to one where they’re affiliated to a candidate or party does a disservice to the justice system.”
The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania supports replacing judicial elections with a process called “merit selection,” in which a nonpartisan commission would recommend judges that would ultimately be appointed by a governor or other authority.
Thornburgh likewise sees the contribution by Tereshko as an indictment of Pennsylvania politics: “This is what can happen if we elect our judges through a partisan, political process. And we should be very concerned about people’s loss of trust and faith in government. Stuff like this is another log on the fire.”
The penalties for violating the Code of Judicial Conduct range from censure to a fine to removal from office. The Judicial Conduct Board of Pennsylvania is the body responsible for investigating allegations of code violations. A lawyer for the board said that, as a matter of policy, it does not comment on whether it has initiated a probe of a judge.
Ronald Rotunda, a legal ethics expert and professor at Chapman University’s Dale E. Fowler School of Law, said, “I don’t see the judge’s justification here. … You’d think the judge would say, ‘Geez, I made a mistake and I won’t do it again.'”
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