THIS STINKS ON ICE: PA Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery No Longer Passes The Smell Test


INQUIRER: Over the last decade, the wife of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery – his chief judicial aide – has received 18 payments as referral fees for connecting law firms with clients. In the most recent payment, McCaffery’s wife, lawyer Lise Rapaport, received $821,000 – her fee from a settlement in a multimillion-dollar medical malpractice case. Court records and McCaffery’s state-mandated public financial-disclosure forms list the 18 instances in which his wife received a referral fee. A lawyer for the couple, and attorneys with the firms, say the fees were routine and proper. But the high court’s chief justice, Ronald D. Castille, questioned Rapaport’s making referrals, as did some legal experts contacted by The Inquirer. Castille said they raised the potential for “conflicts of interest and the appearance of impropriety arising from a judge’s staff employee practicing law while receiving fair compensation while employed in a judicial chamber, and especially in a judicial chamber.” Castille and McCaffery have been bitterly at odds in recent months, personally and professionally. 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. MORE

Scuttlebutt, hearsay and innuendo have long suggested that Philadelphia Traffic Court might not be the model of blind justice, but the scope and extent of judicial improprieties that are detailed in the report conducted by Chadwick Associates, commissioned by the First Judicial District, is mind-boggling, even to jaded Philadelphians. We would be remiss — as legal editorializers — if we didn’t weigh in with indignation and outrage, and a call for a quick and thorough cleaning of the house. But now that we have dispensed with the obvious, we wish to call attention to the fact that the problem may be far deeper and wider than just Traffic Court.

At least two leading members of the Philadelphia legal community — one a lawyer and a judge on the state’s highest court; the other a lawmaker and judge-maker — have been implicated in this ticket-fixing mess. Justice Seamus P. McCaffery, though not accused in the report of ticket-fixing, according to his own explanation apparently felt it appropriate at the time his wife’s traffic dispute was being heard in Traffic Court to meet with a Traffic Court administrator immediately outside the Traffic Court building, to suggest recusal issues in his wife’s pending case. He apparently did not consider the possibility that Traffic Court officials might infer other purposes for the visit. And the Chadwick report alleges that workers in the office of U.S. Representative Bob Brady, D-Pa., among other elected officials, were “frequent requestors of special consideration” for unnamed persons. Brady has denied this to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Regardless of where the truth lies, the report puts these two leaders smack in the middle of an embarrassing, inexcusable system of corruption. In light of this, one would have hoped we would have heard from them some loud indignation and outrage about the alleged widespread ticket-fixing practices. But no. The only indignation and outrage we’ve heard, to date, has been about self-preservation. Has McCaffery issued any kind of statement expressing his stern disapproval of the alleged practices; his insistence that the public must have complete faith in the honesty and neutrality of judges at all levels of the Unified Judicial System; or his appreciation for the thorough investigation performed at the behest of the chief justice? No. Instead, the only reports of McCaffery’s reaction to the scandal, beyond the explanation of his conversation with the court administrator, concern (per “numerous close sources,” according to the Inquirer) his outrage that the report — paid for with public dollars and concerning a matter of grave public importance — was released to the public. MORE

WIKIPEDIA: McCaffery was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1950. His family emigrated to the United States when he was five.[3] He graduated from Cardinal Dougherty High School in Philadelphia and joined the United States Marine Corps. After leaving active duty, McCaffery joined the Marine Corps Reserve and joined the Philadelphia Police Department. He served in the police department for 20 years, rising to Sergeant. While a police officer, McCaffery put himself through university at La Salle University and law school at Temple University.[4] In 2008 he retired as a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. He is also a 33° Mason. In 1993, McCaffery won election to Municipal Court in Philadelphia. With support from members of the city council, he developed Eagles Court in 1998 in response to a 1997 Monday Night Football game between the Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers. With over 60 fistfights reported at the nationally televised game, stadium violence became an embarrassment for the city. McCaffery presided over the court, which was convened in the basement of Veterans Stadium, and handed out fines or jail time to fans arrested during games.[6] He was elected to the Superior Court in 2003[7] and successfully ran for the Supreme Court in 2007. MORE