A Philadelphia judge facing allegations that he violated both the state constitution and judicial codes of conduct by failing to disclose all of the details of the cases in which he was a defendant to a bar association committee reviewing his candidacy for recommendation to the voters has been suspended a second time — this time without pay.
Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Thomas M. Nocella was suspended last November by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court but not without pay or benefits. The Court of Judicial Discipline entered an order Tuesday suspending Nocella without pay.
The per curiam order was entered without comment and did not address the ultimate disposition of Nocella’s judicial misconduct case.
Nocella was charged by the Judicial Conduct Board with failing to “respect and comply with the law” by failing to file campaign finance reports required for a political action committee for which the judge provided legal services on a pro bono basis. The judge also allegedly failed to obey a court order to pay a $39,000 fine out of the PAC funds for the campaign finance violations.
Nocella’s counsel, Samuel C. Stretton, said that Nocella had already admitted to the violations except for the claim that he has brought the judiciary into disrepute. So Stretton said the court has appeared to decide that some sort of suspension is warranted and to have it start without pay.
But Stretton said he wished there had been advance notice, perhaps with a rule to show cause on changing the nature of Nocella’s suspension to unpaid, “so these things don’t just appear out of the blue sky.”
Stretton is a columnist for The Legal.
The Judicial Conduct Board’s Robert Graci said the board is pleased with the interim development, but that the board is awaiting the court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law.
Nocella, who was elected to the bench in the fall of 2011, also served as an interim appointee on the Municipal Court from December 2, 2008, until January 3, 2010.
The constitution bars judges from engaging “in any activity prohibited by law and shall not violate any canon of legal or judicial ethics prescribed by the Supreme Court,” court papers said.
Nocella was reviewed by the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Commission on Judicial Selection and Retention in 2001, 2005, 2009 and 2011. In 2011, Nocella was nominated by the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee to fill a judicial vacancy that had arisen between the spring primary and the general election in the fall.
The board said that Nocella, when seeking an updated evaluation by the bar commission in 2011, did not disclose that he had filed for bankruptcy; that he had been found in contempt of two court orders sought by the Philadelphia Board of Ethics in the campaign finance case; that the Internal Revenue Service had filed liens against him for $358,961 and $110,748; that a judgment was entered against Nocella for $923,152 in favor of Czarnecki Profit Sharing; and that a judgment of $306,174 was entered against Nocella in favor of Casimir Czarnecki.
The bar association panel did rate Nocella as “recommended” in 2011.
The board said that, while Nocella disclosed the case involving the Straughter-Carter Post No. 6627, Veterans of Foreign Wars, in 2009, that Nocella “failed to disclose material facts in his description of the VFW matter, including the facts that he misrepresented his authority to execute documents and collected a $60,000 fee at the property closing.”
The VFW post and Veterans of Foreign Wars of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Department, said in their complaint objecting to the dischargeability of Nocella’s debt that Nocella participated in the fraudulent transfer of the VFW post’s real property at 4338-44 Terrace St., Philadelphia, “in stating that he was the representative of Straughter-Carter, despite his subsequent testimony that he has never been a representative of Straughter-Carter or any VFW post.”
Nocella settled the case with the VFW for $80,000 on April 12, 2012, and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled July 15, 2012, that the debt owed by Nocella was not dischargeable, the board said.
In the campaign finance case, Nocella, then serving as a Philadelphia Municipal Court interim appointee, was held in contempt in 2009 of two court orders regarding a political action committee campaign finance filing report violation and a $39,000 fine for the violation. The contempt of court was sought by the Philadelphia Board of Ethics.
Nocella and one other person settled the matter with the Board of Ethics for $16,000 in the fall of 2009, the board said.
Amaris Elliott-Engel can be contacted at 215-557-2354 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BPresentTLI.