Roughly one month after the vacating of Magisterial District Judge Mark Bruno’s suspension by the state Supreme Court, the justices issued a ruling determining the high court has the power to suspend judges.
The court’s opinion, released Wednesday, is in response to a petition filed by Bruno in 2013 after his indictment in the Philadelphia Traffic Court scandal, and is part of the larger debate on whether the high court’s authority supersedes that of the Court of Judicial Discipline to impose sanctions on judges.
Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille wrote in the court’s opinion, “The Supreme Court has the supervisory power, an aspect of its authority at King’s Bench, to order the interim suspension without pay of sitting jurists.”
The dispute between the Supreme Court and the CJD arose after the CJD issued an order in May 2013 suspending Bruno with pay. Some three months earlier, the justices had suspended Bruno without pay.
According to Castille, Bruno and the Judicial Conduct Board had argued that 1993 amendments to the state constitution creating the board and the CJD stripped from the Supreme Court its ability to discipline judges; however, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts contended that the high court retained the ultimate disciplinary power.
“The Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction at King’s Bench to resolve the instant dispute, which implicates supervisory actions of the court relating to personnel of the Unified Judicial System,” Castille added. “Acting within their respective authorities and jurisdictions, both the Supreme Court and the CJD have authority to issue orders of interim suspension and to impose sanctions upon jurists. To the extent that any such orders ultimately or necessarily conflict, the order of the Supreme Court is ‘supreme’ and controlling.”
Justices J. Michael Eakin, Max Baer and Correale F. Stevens joined Castille’s lead opinion while the remaining justices each filed concurring opinions.
After a two-month trial ending in late July, a federal jury found Bruno, Traffic Court Judge Michael J. Sullivan and Chinatown businessman Robert Moy not guilty of all charges against them, which included counts of mail and wire fraud and conspiracy.
On Aug. 28, the court vacated Bruno’s suspension, clearing the way for him to retake the bench.
Samuel C. Stretton of West Chester, Pa., represented Bruno in the case. Stretton is the ethics columnist for Legal sibling publication Pennsylvania Law Weekly. A. Taylor Williams of the AOPC was the attorney of record for the state court’s administrative body.
Two amici curiae participated in the case.
The Special Court Judges Association of Pennsylvania was represented by Dennis R. Joyce of Pittsburgh and David J. Barton of the Bentz Law Firm in Pittsburgh.
The Pennsylvania Bar Association was represented by Robert L. Byer of Duane Morris, along with Michael A. Bloom of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, Forest Neil Myers of Shippensburg, Pa., and Thomas G. Wilkinson Jr. of Cozen O’Connor.
Robert A. Graci of the Judicial Conduct Board also participated in the case, according to the court docket.
(Copies of the 124-page opinion in In re Magisterial District Judge Bruno, PICS No. 14-1566, are available from The Legal Intelligencer. Please call the Pennsylvania Instant Case Service at 800-276-PICS to order or for information.) •