Legal Ethics

Judge Ordered Recused After Her Comment About ‘Vile’ Defendant Gets Deleted


A Philadelphia judge admits she called a defendant “vile,” but it got deleted from the transcript because of her request for deletion of “nonjudicial” comments, according to a Pennsylvania Supreme Court opinion.

Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes should have recused herself from the case of Daniel Dougherty, convicted in her courtroom of killing his two children in an arson fire, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said in a per curiam opinion. Cardwell Hughes made the remark in a February 2008 hearing on post-conviction relief. The Associated Press and Philly.com have stories.

Cardwell Hughes admitted during a hearing held a month later that she had directed a court reporter to delete “nonjudicial” comments from the record, according to a concurring opinion by Justice Max Baer.

“I did call him vile, period, I did,” Cardwell Hughes said during the March 2008 hearing. “I told [the court reporter] to [remove] words that are less than judicial because I’m Southern and I say words like ‘flipping’ and ‘sucker.’ ”

She held the hearing in response to a letter from defense counsel asking the court reporter to keep audio recordings of the proceedings. Lawyers for Dougherty discovered the word was missing when they reviewed the transcript for appeal.

During the hearing, defense lawyers made an oral motion for the recusal of Cardwell Hughes. She was not happy, according to Baer’s opinion. “I have in no way allowed my personal opinion of a person who toasted a house with children in it to affect the legal opportunity that I gave you to show me that I have misread this evidence,” she said. “If he’s entitled to a new trial, I will give it to him. … But don’t you [dare], as long as you live, question my integrity.”

Directing a court reporter to alter an official transcript, Baer said, “is reprehensible and should be condemned universally.” Attacking defense counsel for requesting recusal, he added, is “obviously inappropriate.”

Cardwell Hughes is moving to a new job on May 16 as chief executive officer of the Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter of the American Red Cross, AP says.

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