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Some Pennsylvania judges hire their relatives, as allowed by the ethics code

Posted Sep 23, 2013 12:12 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Pennsylvania is one of only three states that allow judges to hire their own relatives for courthouse jobs, and some judges in the state are taking advantage of that nepotism exemption.

In Montgomery County, one judge works with his wife, who is paid nearly $54,000 to be his secretary, the Morning Call reports. In Northampton County, one judge hired his mother-in-law and another hired his uncle as part-time court officers.

The issue got some attention as a result of public scrutiny of two Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices, the story says. Justice Joan Orie Melvin was convicted for using staffers in political campaigns along with her secretary and sister, Janine Orie.

Another justice, Seamus McCaffery, works with his wife, Lise Rapaport, who is his chief judicial aide. The arrangement was in the news because Rapaport had taken fees for connecting clients with law firms.

The story says nepotism is permitted under a gray area of the state’s judicial canons, which say judges should make appointments on the basis of merit. The wording hasn’t been interpreted to ban the hiring of family members. As a result, supreme court, appellate and common pleas judges are allowed to hire relatives. The rules governing lower-level district judges, however, specifically ban nepotism in hiring.

The Pennsylvania Bar Association is advocating reforms to ban all nepotism in hiring by judges, though its recommendation would allow relatives already hired to stay in their jobs.

The two other states that don't have a ban on nepotism in their judicial codes are Michigan and Oregon, the story says.

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