Superior Court Judge Anne E. Lazarus
Superior Court Judge Anne E. Lazarus ()

Superior Court Judge Anne E. Lazarus’ background and her work developing the new Judicial Code of Conduct make her a natural fit for her new position heading the Judicial Conduct Board, attorneys who spoke with the Law Weekly agreed.

Lazarus, who has served as vice chair of the board since 2012, was unanimously elected as chair of the board in February. She will replace outgoing chairman James E. McErlane, of Lamb McErlane, who served in the position since 2012.

“Judge Lazarus is an outstanding jurist with a terrific sense of right and wrong,” said Abraham C. Reich of Fox Rothschild, who co-chaired the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s task force on the Code of Judicial Conduct. “She was instrumental in helping to navigate the new Judicial Code of Conduct, and I am confident she will do a great job in the position.”

In 2012, Lazarus was appointed by the state Supreme Court to chair the committee that examined the Code of Judicial Conduct and proposed potential changes. The committee issued its report in 2013 and many of the recommendations were incorporated into the revised code that the high court adopted in January. The new code prohibits judges from serving on commercial boards and, among other things, includes provisions aimed at deterring nepotism.

Lynn Marks, the executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said Lazarus is well qualified for the new position.

“She is widely considered a ‘guru’ of judicial ethics and is extremely knowledgeable about the Judicial Code of Conduct, both the existing one and the recommendations that were made for a new code to go into effect in July,” Marks said in an email. “This deep knowledge and understanding is a real benefit for being a truly effective board member and chair.”

Along with Lazarus, the JCB also elected Lancaster County Magisterial District Judge Jayne F. Duncan as vice chair and Kenneth Lawrence, the senior vice president for government, community and public affairs for Temple University, as secretary. Lazarus, Duncan and Lawrence were the only candidates for the positions.

Gov. Tom Corbett also appointed Saul Ewing attorney Richard T. Frazier to the board, which is expected to bring the complement of the board to 11 members.

McErlane is expected stay in his position until August as the board transitions into the new leadership. During that time, some of the provisions of the new code of conduct are expected to go into effect.

While the code changes will not change the way the board reviews cases, Lazarus said it will help the board to more clearly determine what behavior constitutes misconduct.

“I think that the conduct board I represent is not looking to play ‘gotcha’ with any judge,” Lazarus said. “We’re looking to honestly and cautiously evaluate behaviors and bring prosecutions where they’re absolutely justified.”

According to Lazarus, the board has also recently implemented a new streamlined approach to preliminarily review complaints.

The board and staff handle roughly 800 complaints a year, but only a small percentage of the complaints are fully investigated because a high number involve only allegations of legal error, as opposed to misconduct of the judges. The new approach, Lazarus said, will allow the board to more quickly assess cases involving strictly legal error complaints, so the board can focus on the substantive disciplinary issues.

The changes are largely the result of an ongoing internal review of the operating procedures and an American Bar Association audit that was performed some five years ago, Lazarus said. Additional suggestions from the ABA include adding investigators and making some infrastructure changes, such as technology updates. However, due to the costs, these changes will have to wait until funds are allocated, Lazarus said.

During McErlane’s tenure at the JCB, the board, with funding through the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, updated its computer and case management system.

Although McErlane said the project was a team effort, Lazarus said she has some big shoes to fill. McErlane, she said, led by example and brought a sense of community and consensus to the board.

“I told him he’s going to be an awfully tough act to follow. He left the board in good shape and I am grateful,” Lazarus said. “It’s an incredibly vibrant and strong board and I’m thrilled they thought I should be their leader. I’m looking forward to working with each and every very dedicated and hardworking member.”

Max Mitchell can be contacted at 215-557-2354 or mmitchell@alm.com. Follow him on Twitter @MMitchellTLI. •