A county judge described as a bully on the bench was stripped of her office Tuesday in the longest and most costly judicial ethics investigation in Pennsylvania history.
The Court of Judicial Discipline also banned Luzerne County Common Pleas Judge Ann H. Lokuta from holding any state judicial office in the future.
Lokuta, who attended the hearing, said she would appeal to the state Supreme Court but declined further comment. Her lawyer, Louis Sinatra, said the result was not a surprise, given the scathing tenor of the court's Oct. 30 opinion that outlined her misconduct.
"We recognized before this hearing the court's opinion had been very critical," Sinatra said.
Francis J. Puskas II, deputy chief counsel for the Judicial Conduct Board, which brought the case against Lokuta, had argued for removal and the ban on future service.
"I take no personal pleasure in Judge Lokuta's downfall, but make no mistake about it -- this court got it right," he said.
One member of the seven-judge court dissented Tuesday, saying he would have suspended Lokuta for a year without pay and then placed her on supervision for three years.
After an investigation and multisession hearing, a process that lasted more than four years, the court concluded in late October that Lokuta's behavior had been "antithetical to standards of common decency."
It ruled she failed to perform her judicial duties, terrorized courthouse workers and had her employees run personal errands.
The court's 225-page ruling depicted Lokuta as a bullying and temperamental jurist and accused her and one of her subordinates of lying under oath. She had been a judge since 1992.
Several Luzerne County lawyers called to testify on Lokuta's behalf Tuesday described her as a civil and dignified judge with a reputation for being well-prepared if somewhat demanding. Some said her removal would be bad for the county's justice system.
"She's a quick study," said Kingston, Pa., lawyer Charles Coslett. "She knows the file. She comes prepared and I come prepared. It's a fair deal."
In remarks to the court Tuesday, Lokuta called the matter "the greatest embarrassment of my life" and said it has pushed her to the brink of financial ruin.
"I've been humbled by these proceedings and the decision," Lokuta said.
She apologized for the fact that witnesses against her said her behavior caused them pain and said she would agree to any restrictions the court might impose that would have allowed her to continue serving as a judge.
But Judge William Lamb told Sinatra that they had "fought this tooth and nail" and he had been listening for evidence of contrition and apology.
"I haven't heard any of that from you or heard any of that from Judge Lokuta," Lamb said.
Sinatra replied that "implicit in almost every word of (her) statement was, 'I made a mistake.'"
Puskas said that in the scope and breadth of the charges, the number of witnesses, the number of days of trial and the cost, the Lokuta case surpassed all prior board prosecutions.
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