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Pennsylvania’s Court of Judicial Discipline has ruled in favor of the embattled Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge James M. DeLeon, who had been accused of improper campaign conduct during his unsuccessful state Supreme Court bid in 2003, according to sources close to the case. Counsel to the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board had alleged in a February complaint that, contrary to the state’s judicial conduct rules, DeLeon began raising money for his 2003 campaign in 2001 and 2002, even though the ethics committee of the state trial judges’ association had warned candidates interested in running for the high court in fall 2003 not to begin gathering funds until mid-January of that year. For more than six years leading up to the filing of the complaint, DeLeon managed the Municipal Court’s criminal division, but said he “voluntarily stepped down” after he learned of the action against him. DeLeon and his lawyer, Samuel Stretton of West Chester, confirmed that the Court of Judicial Discipline had ruled in his favor in a decision filed late last week. The Legal was not immediately able to obtain a copy of the court’s opinion in the matter. Staffers at both the Court of Judicial Discipline and the Judicial Conduct Board, citing internal policies, refused to provide The Legal with a copy of the ruling in time for our Friday evening deadline. Calls to the Judicial Conduct Board seeking comment on the decision were not immediately returned. In an interview Friday afternoon, DeLeon praised the skills of his attorney (who is also the author of a weekly ethics column for Pennsylvania Law Weekly, The Legal‘s sister paper.) “Sam Stretton has solidified himself as one of the top attorneys in the state in the representation of judicial officers, and I just feel that he’s an excellent attorney, and I thank him for his services,” he said. DeLeon, a nearly two-decade veteran of the Municipal Court, was in April 2003 deemed “not recommended” for election to the high court by the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s judicial evaluation commission; that body found that DeLeon had not shown that he possessed “the legal knowledge necessary to serve successfully on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.” He ultimately lost a five-way contest for the Democratic nomination to the state Supreme Court in May 2003. The winner, current Justice Max Baer, took in 47 percent of the vote; DeLeon, 11 percent. Daniel Reimer, assistant counsel to the Judicial Conduct Board, wrote in his 12-page notice to the state Court of Judicial Discipline that in order to continue DeLeon’s pre-2003 fund-raising activities, members of DeLeon’s family and his longtime secretary created an ostensibly unaffiliated political action committee with the purpose of accepting contributions on DeLeon’s behalf. “The board believes, and therefore avers, that the [Committee for Minorities on the Supreme Court] was a de facto, poorly disguised committee of [DeLeon], through which he could continue to raise campaign funds for his 2003 bid for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, without appearing to violate the Code of Judicial Conduct,” Reimer wrote. Stretton said the Court of Judicial Discipline’s holding in favor of DeLeon was based on the fact that there had been too long a delay in bringing the action against DeLeon.

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