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An Allegheny Common Pleas judge may find himself at the plaintiffs’ table after two former employees filed a wrongful discharge lawsuit that accused Judge H. Patrick McFalls Jr. of being drunk while on the job. McFalls is on “voluntary administration leave with pay,” according to a news release issued Thursday by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts. “As reports have arisen in various media with respect to staffing of Judge McFalls’ office and the filing of resulting litigation, concern that such matters might affect the public’s perception of the courts in Allegheny County has also arisen even as constructive actions have occurred to ensure appropriate administration of judicial service,” Zygmont Pines, the court administrator of Pennsylvania, said in a news release. The AOPC announcement said that McFalls has not been assigned any new cases since Nov. 8, near the time McFalls’ law clerk and legal secretary talked to an administrative judge with concerns about McFalls’ conduct. McFalls later dismissed James Joseph and his wife Barbara from their jobs. On Wednesday, the pair filed a lawsuit in federal court because of the firings. In the suit, the Josephs claim McFalls dismissed them from their duties because James Joseph reported to Common Pleas Civil Division Administrative Judge Joseph James that McFalls presided over cases while drunk, wore vacation clothes and sandals, and had a vodka bottle fall from a pocket in front of court visitors. The Josephs say they were fired after McFalls learned they had spoken with Judge James. Their lawyer, Samuel Cordes, said the couple was fired out of retaliation because they “spoke on matters of public concern.” He added that McFalls has never given one reason for the dismissals but has changed his mind three times as to why his clients were fired, and that McFalls’ action violates the Josephs’ First Amendment rights to comment on matters affecting the public. McFalls’ lawyer Robert Lampl, also of Pittsburgh, paints a different picture. He called the lawsuit “scurrilous accusations from disgruntled former employees.” “It’s unfortunate they chose litigation as a forum to hang the judge,” Lampl added. The Josephs are seeking reinstatement to their jobs and back wages, plus compensatory damages and punitive damages against McFalls. The suit also names Allegheny County as a defendant and alleges that Judge James and other county officials knew McFalls was firing staffers for speaking out. According to the suit, problems arose in October when McFalls was vacationing in the Cayman Islands. The Josephs claim he was late returning from the trip causing the staff to conduct conciliation sessions with lawyers and that Barbara Joseph had to reschedule arguments scheduled for Oct. 25 because of McFalls’ “alcohol abuse.” The suit says McFalls returned from his trip Oct. 29 and arrived in court the next day dressed in vacation clothes and sandals. Between Oct. 31 and Nov. 8, the Josephs claim they watched McFalls conduct court business while impaired and under the influence of alcohol, the lawsuit says. On Nov. 9, Barbara Joseph confronted McFalls about his behavior and was “rebuffed.” James Joseph then decided to bring their concerns to Judge James, the suit says. It also says that James Joseph called McFalls while he was again in the Caymans Nov. 13 to tell him a meeting had been scheduled with Judge James and Allegheny County President Judge Robert Kelly to discuss his drinking. The next day, the Josephs and John Jakomas, McFalls’ tipstaff, were notified by letter that they were dismissed. McFalls then attempted to hire his son, H. Patrick McFalls III, a law student at Duquesne, as his tipstaff but he declined the position. McFalls then announced that Ben Woods, a former City Council president, who served a federal prison term for corruption charges, would take the position. Woods also declined to accept the post. McFalls first joined the bench in 1986 after unsuccessful bids for city council and city controller. He was arrested for drunken driving during his first year as judge and was admitted into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program for first-time offenders. James Joseph has a long history with McFalls. He first served as the judge’s personal attorney and was his spokesman during his drunken driving arrest and his testimony during Woods’ federal extortion and racketeering trial. Cordes also is no stranger to high-profile legal disputes involving judges. In 1995, he represented two Fayette County women who accused former Fayette County Judge Richard D. Cicchetti of sexual harassment. The cases settled and each woman received $125,000. Cicchetti resigned his judgeship. The AOPC said McFalls will continue to receive his annual $116,065 salary, pending further review.

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