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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Suspended for Sexually Explicit Emails
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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Suspended for Sexually Explicit Emails

Summary: The legal community in Pennsylvania is in an uproar over the recent suspension of a Supreme Court justice who sent inappropriate emails to the state attorney general’s staff.

According to the Wall Street Journal, earlier this week, a majority of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court voted to suspend Justice Seamus McCaffery with pay. McCaffery was accused of sending and/or receiving 234 emails that contained sexually explicit or pornographic photographs and videos over a four-year period from 2008 to 2012.


The emails were first discovered during the Jerry Sandusky scandal, during which the former Penn State football coach was convicted of child sex abuse and eventually imprisoned. The state attorney general’s investigation uncovered the emails, but the emails were not directly related to the Sandusky case. Last month, Attorney General Kathleen Kane released the names of eight men who had either sent or received the emails after much prodding from news agencies.

Not everyone in Pennsylvania’s legal community agrees with the suspension, but lawyers and judges alike admit that the behavior is difficult to ignore.

Earlier this week, a spokesman for McCaffery released a statement that accused Chief Justice Ronald Castille of a “relentless crusade to destroy [McCaffery’s] career and reputation.” The spokesman promised that McCaffery would eventually be “cleared of any wrongdoing and [will return] to the bench soon.”

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Richard B. Klein, a retired judge of 36 years from Philadelphia, commented, “My hope is that I never have to hear one more word about this again, but I’m afraid that I’m going to.”

Sandra Schultz Newman, a retired state Supreme Court Justice, said that the accusations against McCaffery were an “affront to me as a woman, as a citizen, a lawyer, and a former justice.”

The president of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, Francis X. O’Connor, was content with the suspension. O’Connor was glad to see that the court took “steps to deal with this unfortunate situation in order to protect the dignity of the justice system and promote public confidence in the judiciary.”

However, some feel that the Supreme Court’s actions were illegal. Both Samuel Stretton, a West Chester attorney, and Duquesne University law professor Bruce Ledewitz stated that a 1993 amendment to the Pennsylvania state constitution removed such disciplinary authority from the Supreme Court, and instead delegated it to independent panels that would act as investigators, prosecutors, and judges.

According to the Morning Call, McCaffery apologized last week for forwarding the emails to a state employee. In addition, allegations arose that the judge may have also sought favors for his wife, who has served as his chief legal clerk. No additional details were provided, but the court said that the judge “may have attempted to exert influence” in judicial court appointments in Philadelphia.

The court order stated that McCaffery “may have improperly contacted” a traffic court judge in Philadelphia for a ticket his wife received, and that he also “may have acted in his official capacity to authorize his wife to accept hundreds of thousands of dollars in referral fees from plaintiffs’ firms” while she worked as his administrative assistant.

The dirty emails apparently included “highly demeaning portrayals of…women, elderly persons and uniformed school girls.”

Should the judge have been suspended for his actions?

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Justice J. Michael Eakin also came forward and stated that, on Thursday, McCaffery had “importuned him” to encourage Chief Justice Ron Castille to retract his statements about the explicit correspondence, or else McCaffery would unveil emails that would embarrass Eakin.

Castille, in his concurring opinion, wrote, “It would be impossible for this court to function effectively while Justice McCaffery sits on this court.” Castille admitted that he has wanted McCaffery off the bench for some time now, noting that “No other justice has failed to live up to the high ethical demands required of a justice of this court or has been the constant focus of ethical lapses to the degree of Justice McCaffery.”

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