A former magisterial district judge from Bradford County has been fined $5,000 by the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline for having sex with and sending explicit texts to the girlfriend of a defendant in his drug and alcohol treatment court.
The court imposed the fine along with a “severe reprimand” against former MDJ Michael G. Shaw after finding ethical violations in “Shaw’s conduct in sending sexually oriented text messages, engaging in sexual relations with the girlfriend of a defendant appearing before him in treatment court, and allowing the attorney then representing him in this ethics matter to represent litigants before him without disclosing that representation to opposing counsel or parties,” Judge Jeffrey Minehart wrote in the CJD’s April 23 opinion.
Shaw declined to run for reelection while the disciplinary matter was pending and no longer sits on the bench.
The fact that Shaw is no longer a judge and his actions were not criminal, combined with his acceptance of responsibility and testimony from community members extolling his good works, saved him from a more severe punishment, Minehart said.
But Judge John Foradora filed a dissenting statement arguing that the amount of the fine should have been “much greater” because Shaw was confronted at one point by Bradford County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Maureen Beirne concerning allegations of sexual impropriety and denied having an “‘affair’” with D.A.
“Because Shaw denied having an ‘affair,’ while admitting to inappropriate texting (but not admitting to a planned sexual encounter), he lied to his president judge,” Foradora said. “This judge believes Shaw should have, at the very least, told President Judge Beirne that he had a sexual encounter with this person (the victim) set up through the sexually explicit texts even if he did not feel the encounter was an ‘affair.’”
According to the Judicial Conduct Board’s complaint, in February 2014 a woman, referred to as D.A., contacted Shaw through Facebook about her plan to break up with her boyfriend, identified as J.L. in the complaint. Shaw and D.A. spoke on the phone at first, but later began to text each other.
The messages were overtly sexual and included Shaw describing sex acts he wanted to perform on D.A., telling D.A. he was fondling himself, and descriptions of “masturbating alone, masturbating together and his ‘big cock,’” the JCB alleged. D.A. also sent him a “sexually suggestive photograph of her buttocks,” the complaint said.
Eventually, the two met in person at a hotel in Binghamton, New York, where they engaged in sexual activities. Their relationship, however, faded soon after, and D.A. eventually reconciled with J.L., according to the complaint.
The board noted that D.A. and J.L. had shared a phone plan, and so J.L. soon discovered that she and Shaw had been texting each other. However, after J.L. confronted the two about the messages, they both told J.L. the messages had only been about J.L. and his treatment.
J.L. did not pursue the issue further until Shaw texted D.A. while J.L. was holding D.A.’s phone. Upset about the message, J.L. then checked the earlier texts and discovered the content of the messages.
In May 2014, D.A. told Shaw, via Facebook, they should no longer communicate, and Shaw, whose Facebook display, the complaint noted, is a picture of him standing in front of a flag, agreed and apologized about the conduct, the complaint said. However, according to the complaint, Shaw did not recuse from J.L.’s case, and he even took both J.L. and D.A. into a jury room during Treatment Court proceedings to discuss what had happened, the complaint said.
Eventually, news of the alleged conduct made it to Beirne. She called a meeting in which Shaw allegedly admitted to the sexting, the complaint said. He was subsequently removed from the bench just prior to a graduation ceremony for the Treatment Court, the complaint said.
The complaint also noted that Shaw often touted the importance of honesty during Treatment Court proceedings, and said that several participants lost enthusiasm for the Treatment Court after they heard about Shaw’s alleged conduct.
Shaw also admitted to sexting with a probation department officer whom he had regular dealings with, the complaint also said, and Shaw acted improperly with other litigants who appeared before him, including allowing them to contact him directly and engaging in ex parte communications regarding truancy issues and traffic tickets.
Shaw was represented by Rinaldo A. DePaola, who did not return a call seeking comment.