The Philadelphia judge taken to task by the Pennsylvania Superior Court for failing to disclose that his spouse worked for a law firm representing a defendant in a motor vehicle insurance case has resigned as supervising judge of Philadelphia’s civil cases.
Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Allan L. Tereshko said in an interview Thursday that he wished he had advised the parties in the case that his wife formerly worked for Post & Schell, the defense firm representing the insurance company in the case.
Tereshko said that "I’m not quarreling with the Superior Court decision," that he should have advised the parties of the relationship before the start of the motion and that it was a lapse not to do that.
"With the number of motions I do, it was an oversight," Tereshko said. "I should have disclosed and I did not."
Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge John W. Herron, administrative judge of the trial division, said that he met with Tereshko on Wednesday after the Superior Court opinion was issued.
"We had a long discussion," Herron said. "He then submitted his resignation saying at the time, given the criticism by the Superior Court, he believed it was in the best interest for the court for him to resign his position as supervising judge."
Tereshko said that he thought it was best if he resigned.
"I didn’t want to take away from the great work the civil division is doing," he said. "I felt John Herron would be better off with another supervising judge."
Tereshko said that he sent out an order last November, which was when he was appointed supervising judge, stating that he would be recusing from cases involving Post & Schell. He said the case in which he received criticism from the Superior Court preceded that order and was an oversight.
Tereshko also stated that this is the only case where he failed to disclose.
Herron said that he did not want to comment about the Superior Court case specifically, but "the issue in general is an extraordinarily difficult one. The Superior Court opinion was appropriate and engaging in intellectually wrestling with the problem for all judges. The problem, as we all recognize, is when is disclosure appropriate? What type of disclosure is appropriate? As judges we live in a world of both professional and personal relationships. How do you draw the line of when you do appropriately disclose?"
One of the difficult aspects involving Tereshko was that Tereshko decided the motion without having a hearing and without disclosing his spousal relationship, Herron said.
Herron did say that Tereshko has made an "extraordinary contribution as a supervising judge. He worked diligently and he worked long, long hours. He has mentored many judges over the years. He has been a part of the civil program for an extraordinarily long time."
Judge Arnold L. New was appointed as the new supervising judge.
New "was a natural person to turn to," Herron said, because he was an "extraordinary judge in the commerce program. He was extremely well-regarded by the bar. He showed a great willingness to take on a learning process in the complex litigation mass tort program."
While New will be continuing in the interim as the supervising judge of the Complex Litigation Center, which involves appeals from arbitrations and mass tort cases, another judge will be introduced to supervise the complex litigation program and will work alongside New for a period of time just as New worked alongside his predecessor, Judge Sandra Mazer Moss, in supervising the Complex Litigation Center.
Tereshko said that he did not know where he will be assigned, and Herron said the decision would be New’s.
A message left at New’s chambers was not returned immediately.
Tereshko did not disclose that his wife, Heather Tereshko, was working in Post & Schell’s professional liability department at the time that Post & Schell was representing the defendant in Barnes v. Westfield Group, according to the concurring opinion.
One of the Superior Court judges on the panel hearing the appeal said in a concurring opinion that the trial judge prejudiced the plaintiff by the lack of disclosure.
Superior Court Judge Anne E. Lazarus, a former colleague of Tereshko’s on the Philadelphia bench, said in her published concurring opinion that "two significant ethical issues are raised: (1) doubt regarding the trial court’s transparency; and (2) the lack of recourse for the aggrieved party to test the conclusion of no partiality or bias by discovery, should he so desire. Where a court has specific knowledge of a private matter or situation in which his or her impartiality may reasonably be questioned, it is his duty to disclose that information to the parties."
And in a footnote in the unpublished majority opinion authored by Judge Jacqueline O. Shogan, Shogan, Lazarus and Senior Judge William H. Platt said, "We note our disapproval of the trial judge’s failure to disclose his relationship to appellee’s counsel and remind him of his obligation pursuant to Pennsylvania Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 3(c)."
That part of the canon states that a judge should disqualify himself or herself when his or her "impartiality might reasonably be questioned," including that he or she knows that his or her spouse or minor child living at home "has a substantial financial interest in the subject matter in controversy or is a party to the proceeding, or any other interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding" or if the judge, his spouse, or a person "within the third degree of relationship to either of them" is "known by the judge to have an interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding."
Heather Tereshko is now a shareholder at Christie, Pabarue, Mortensen and Young.