Friday, August 17, 2007

PA Superior Court Judge Indicted

Associated Press articles reported on August 15, 2007, that a sitting judge on the Pennsylvania Superior Court is the subject of a federal criminal indictment obtained by the United States Attorney's Office for the Western District of PA on nine counts of mail fraud & money laundering charges, deriving from alleged insurance fraud.

That judge,
Michael Thomas Joyce, also stands for a ten-year retention vote in the upcoming November General Election.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported the indictment in an article by Paula Reed, dated August 15, 2007, entitled "Superior Court judge indicted on mail fraud count":

* * * Judge Michael Thomas Joyce, 58, of Erie, is charged with nine separate counts stemming from two insurance claims he filed related to an Aug. 10, 2001, car accident.

According to the U.S. attorney's office in Pittsburgh, the accident occurred at a low speed, and neither medical nor law enforcement personnel were called to the scene.

However, Judge Joyce subsequently sought damages from both State Farm Insurance, which held the other driver's policy, as well as his own company, Erie Insurance Group, for pain and suffering he sustained related to injuries he said he received in the accident.

The indictment contends that Judge Joyce falsely claimed that the accident had adverse effects on both his personal and professional life, including that it rendered him unable to golf, scuba dive or exercise. Further he said that it prevented him from pursuing higher judicial office.

According to the indictment, Mr. Joyce received two payments totaling $440,000 for his claims. Of that money $50,000 was to settle a bodily injury claim while the rest went to settle a claim under the underinsured motorist provision of his coverage.

But, prosecutors allege, during the same time period, Judge Joyce played multiple rounds of golf in Jamaica, Florida and New York; went scuba diving in Runaway Bay, Jamaica, and renewed his diving instructor certificate. In addition, he went roller blading, exercised at a fitness club and applied for and received a private pilot's license, flying approximately 50 times. * * *
See also: "Superior Court judge Michael Thomas Joyce indicted", by Jason Cato, posted by the Pittsburgh Tribune -Review on August 15, 2007.

The effects of the indictment reverberated statewide, due to the position of this judge, both on the court and as a political candidate.

On August 17, 2007,
The Legal Intelligencer posted an article by Peter Hall & Asher Hawkins entitled "Federal Indictment Looms Over Pa. Superior Court Judge's Retention Race", which addressed both continuing service on the Superior Court and the political campaign for retention.
Superior Court Judge Michael T. Joyce could be suspended until federal mail fraud and money laundering charges filed against him Wednesday are resolved, state government and judicial experts say.

But the effect on Joyce's retention bid of allegations he filed fraudulent claims with two insurance carriers after a 2001 car crash is harder to predict, they added. The nine-count indictment against Joyce, 58, could lead to his removal from the bench in either of two ways.

Joseph A. Massa, chief counsel of the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board, said the state constitution allows the board to petition the state Court of Judicial Discipline for the suspension -- with or without pay -- of any judge who is the subject of a felony indictment. Massa said Thursday morning that he and the board were monitoring the situation, but had reached no decision whether to file a petition.

There is also a strong possibility the state Supreme Court itself could decide to relieve Joyce of his duties with pay until the charges are resolved, as it did in the case of former Justice Rolf Larsen. Larsen was charged with obtaining prescriptions in the names of court staffers. Supreme Court spokesman L. Stuart Ditzen said he could not comment on that possibility. * * *
On August 17, 2007, Lancaster Online posted an Associated Press article by Peter Jackson, of Harrisburg, entitled "Pa. judge vows to seek re-election despite insurance scam charges", that addressed the Judge's response to the indictment:
* * * Joyce, who lives in Erie in Pennsylvania's northwestern corner, said he's innocent and intends to seek statewide voter approval for a second 10-year term when he stands for an up-or-down "retention" vote in the November election.

"When the facts are laid out, it will be clear that these charges have no merit," the Republican said in a statement Wednesday.

"I have spent almost 23 years on the bench and have instructed hundreds of juries that in the United States, one is presumed innocent until proven guilty," he said.

"Just because there is a charge does not mean an actual crime has occurred." * * *
The Legal Intelligencer article notes, also, a potential response by the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Bar Association panel that makes recommendations on appellate judges and judicial candidates was planning to meet to consider changing Joyce's rating from "recommended" to "not recommended."

Such a reversal would be unprecedented, but "I think we have a duty" to take another look at Joyce now that he is under indictment, said Chris Gillotti, a Pittsburgh lawyer who chairs the association's Judicial Evaluation Commission. * * *

Update: 08/17/07 (6:15 pm):

Lancaster Online updated its Associated Press news report (cited above) at 5:38 pm on August 17, 2007, in a replacement article by Peter Jackson, now entitled "Pa. Supreme Court suspends judge accused of insurance scam".

It reported the suspension of Judge Joyce from his judicial position, with pay, pending the outcome of the federal indictment:

Pennsylvania's highest court Friday suspended Superior Court Judge Michael T. Joyce, who was indicted earlier this week on federal charges of cheating two insurance companies out of $440,000.

The state Supreme Court said it was suspending Joyce with pay "to protect and preserve the integrity of the Unified Judicial System and the administration of justice for the citizens of this Commonwealth." * * *

Joyce is the first state appellate judge to be charged with a crime — and the first to be suspended — in more than a decade, court officials said.

He has said he is innocent of the mail fraud and money laundering charges against him.

Joyce issued a statement Friday in which he said he anticipated the suspension and that he did not intend to appeal it. * * *
Update: 08/22/07:

On August 21, 2007, the media reported that Judge Joyce decided to withdraw his name from the retention election, and to retire from the bench.

In an article published on August 21, 2007, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, entitled "Indicted judge won't seek retention", by Paula Reed Ward, this and other developments in this matter were reported:
The Superior Court judge who announced last week that he would seek retention in the November election despite a federal court indictment has changed his mind.

"It is with immense regret that in light of recent events and after numerous discussions with my family, friends, colleagues and party leaders -- I have decided to withdraw my name from the retention ballot this November," said Judge Michael T. Joyce in a written statement released yesterday afternoon.

"Therefore, I will retire from the bench, effective at the end of my current term." * * *

In regard to Judge Joyce's decision to withdraw, his position will go back on November's ballot, provided he files a formal withdrawal by Sept. 6.

That means the state Republican and Democratic parties will have to submit one name each as replacement candidates. They will be running for full 10-year terms on the appellate court.

Nominations must be made by Sept. 17 to get on the November ballot, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State. * * *

Earlier yesterday, Judge Joyce waived his appearance at his arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter in Erie and pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.