Nonlawyer judge who left the bench still fined $5K for improper sexual conduct

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money and gavel

Pennsylvania’s Court of Judicial Discipline has fined and reprimanded a nonlawyer judge who is no longer on the bench, partly for an improper sexual relationship with the girlfriend of a DUI defendant in his treatment court.

Michael Shaw, the former judge in Sayre, Pennsylvania, was fined $5,000, report and the Associated Press. He did not run for reelection in 2017, when the ethics case was pending, according to the Court of Judicial Discipline’s April 23 opinion.

According to joint stipulations of fact, the defendant’s girlfriend contacted Shaw through his Facebook page in February 2014 and informed him that she planned to break up with the defendant. Shaw called the girlfriend, who expressed concern that her boyfriend would relapse after the breakup.

Shaw followed up with a text asking the girlfriend about her plans for the breakup and continued to send texts, some of which were flirtatious and sexual in nature. Shaw and the girlfriend met at a hotel for a tryst in March 2014. Shaw stopped sending the woman text messages by the next month, and she resumed her relationship with the defendant.

The defendant discovered the calls to Shaw on the cellphone bill and discovered the texts later. Another treatment court participant knew about the texts and reported them to a probation officer. During a meeting with the presiding judge, Shaw admitted sending sexual texts but denied having an affair.

Shaw was removed from his position with the treatment court, and some court defendants who learned of Shaw’s text messages became upset and lost their enthusiasm, according to the findings of fact.

The court also found that Shaw’s former lawyer in the ethics matter also represented parties in civil litigation before the judge. At a minimum, the opposing counsel should have been informed of the representation, the Court of Judicial Discipline said. “Recusal would have been the most sensible course,” the court added.

Shaw took full responsibility for his actionsm and “his contrition is obviously genuine,” the Court of Judicial Discipline said. There is no evidence of any prior complaints against the judge. Several witnesses at the sanction hearing testified about Shaw’s good work in the community.

A concurring judge said he thought the fine “should be an amount much greater than the amount the majority has assessed.”

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