Ethics and Justice Eakin’s Emails
Here in Pennsylvania we have had a number of judicial scandals over the past several years. The most recent scandal involves improper emails exchanged by government officials, including two Justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. One of the accused Justices is J. Michael Eakin. Last year, he was cleared by the Judicial Conduct Board, but then more emails came along and another scandal erupted. At this point, there doesn’t seem to be much disagreement amongst ethics lawyers surrounding this. Jennifer Ellis, an ethics attorney with the personal injury firm of Lowenthal & Abrams, agreed. When asked by the Legal Intelligencer for her thoughts, Ellis stated that she would not second guess the JCB’s decision,
Legal ethics attorney Jennifer Ellis of Lowenthal & Abrams said she feels she is not in a position to disagree with the board’s conclusions. She acknowledged that if she saw the emails herself, she might be upset by them. “But I’m probably not the person to judge, and I recognize that. I recognize that in myself, I’m kind of conservative,” Ellis said. “The opinion of what is appropriate and what is inappropriate is very much judged by the times in which we live and the people who review them.”
Ellis also agreed with Judge Bob Graci who judged Justice Eakin’s conduct under the rules as they existed at the time of the emails. She noted that when people, whether they are judges, lawyers or lay people, violate rules or laws, the standard applied has to be the one that existed when the violations occurred. The judicial conduct rules were changed in 2014 to clarify issues surrounding impropriety, but it would be unfair and a violation of due process to examine Justice Eakin’s emails under the 2014 standard. He couldn’t possibly be aware of a standard that did not exist when he sent or received the emails.
In addition, Ellis felt that judges have a right to privacy, though, in this case, “Eakin’s emails lost some level of privacy when they became intertwined with public accounts.” In other words, by sending emails from his personal account to the government-owned accounts of others, Justice Eakin should have realized that those emails could be scrutinized.
For the full article, see Little Second-Guessing Over JCB’s 2014 Letter to Eakin, by Lizzy McLellan and Ben Seal, The Legal Intelligencer.