Suspended Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Angeles Roca and suspended Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Dawn Segal have both been removed from office for ethics violations.
In separate sanctions rulings issued Dec. 16, the Court of Judicial Discipline removed both judges from the bench and barred them from holding public office in the future.
Both judges have already appealed the sanctions rulings to the state Supreme Court.
The decisions came after Roca and Segal were found earlier this year to have violated the state constitution and the Code of Judicial Conduct by engaging in ex parte contact with former Municipal Court Judge Joseph C. Waters Jr., who was later charged criminally and sentenced to 24 months in prison for fixing cases of political donors.
In both Dec. 16 opinions, CJD President Judge Jack A. Panella found that Roca and Segal willfully participated in the ex parte contact with Waters and discussed influencing the outcome of cases.
Both opinions also concluded by saying that “when it comes to corrupt acts and the derogation of a fair and just judicial process, a judge must have ‘the willingness to stand up for what was right and buck a corrupt tide.’”
The CJD determined in July that Segal had violated four judicial canons and three articles of the state constitution, including prohibitions against engaging in ex parte communications, allowing others to believe they could influence her, failing to report the communications, failing to disqualify herself, and interfering with the normal operations of the court.
The charges focused on allegations that Waters contacted Segal four times, and asked for special consideration in the cases of Houdini Lock & Safe v. Donegal Investment Property Management Services, Commonwealth v. Khoury and City of Philadelphia v. Rexach, a tax enforcement case against Roca’s son, Ian Rexach.
During her disciplinary trial in January, Segal testified that she had felt very politically threatened when Waters began making the requests, and his calls did not influence her decisions in the cases.
The court, however, determined that her conduct was “so extreme that it brought disrepute upon the judicial office itself.”
“Each of the parties in Houdini, Rexach and Khoury, for whom Waters requested special consideration, did in fact receive a favorable outcome,” CJD Judge David Shrager said in a July opinion. “The opposing parties and their attorneys in each of the three cases knew nothing about the prohibited ex parte communications between Waters and respondent Segal, and therefore they were deprived of an opportunity to challenge her ability to be impartial and request that respondent Segal recuse herself from their cases.”
In the CJD’s Dec. 16 sanctions ruling, Panella again rejected Segal’s claim that Waters was completely to blame.
“We find nothing in the record which even remotely suggests that respondent’s misconduct was anything but fully voluntary and done to protect her own political welfare,” Panella said.
The CJD said in an October opinion that Roca’s actions brought her office into disrepute, prejudiced the proper administration of justice and failed to promote confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
Roca, who has been suspended without pay since January, contacted Waters in 2012, seeking to enlist his aid in having the tax enforcement complaint issued against her son dismissed, according to the CJD’s October opinion. She asked Waters to intervene in the matter by contacting Segal, which he did. Segal later told Waters that she “took care of it,” and the case was ultimately withdrawn by another judge without prejudice.
Roca, Waters and Segal were unknowingly being recorded by the FBI during their phone calls.
Roca was charged by the Judicial Conduct Board in a six-count complaint last December, and a trial was held Sept. 8 in Philadelphia.
“It cannot be reasonably disputed that Judge Roca, at first, only requested advice from former Judge Waters, but then the conversation clearly fell into an agreement to obtain ex parte contacts with the judge handling her son’s case,” Panella said in the Dec. 16 sanctions ruling. “However, rather than refuse to participate in this scheme, she fully complied and willfully participated in the scheme.”
Segal’s attorney, Stuart L. Haimowitz of Philadelphia, said in an emailed statement that the sanction against his client was “excessive” because she was never found to have committed any criminal acts or sought improper favors.
“Judge Segal expected to be sanctioned for what she did,” the statement said. “We hoped and expected the Court of Judicial Discipline to have considered Judge Segal’s actual conduct and its own precedent when it imposed its sanction. Instead, it appears it took a ‘get rid of them all’ approach.”
Roca’s attorney, Samuel C. Stretton of West Chester, said he was “very upset” with the CJD’s decision to remove his client from the bench because he felt the court ignored prior cases in which similar conduct resulted in a suspension.
“I gave them about 20 cases, all on point, and they never even referenced one of them,” Stretton said.
Robert A. Graci, the JCB’s chief counsel, declined to comment beyond the CJD’s opinions.
Zack Needles can be contacted at 215-557-2373 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ZackNeedlesTLI.