Sordid Backgrounds of Pennsylvania Judges

Updated May 31, 2017

When former Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane received a campaign contribution from billionaire, twice convicted mobster Louis DeNaples,  she returned it.  But that did not stop the media in Pennsylvania from heavily reporting on it.   The media further made a huge deal that District Attorney Stephen Zappala also got  donations from DeNaples, resulting in his withdrawing from his candidacy for Pennsylvania Attorney General last year. 

However, Pennsylvania media outlets did not seem to have a problem with seven Appellate judges who also have donations from DeNaples,  including one who even went to work for his family.  It makes the following seem more like an institutional cover-up than just a mere double-standard.  In fact, it is an ongoing theme in the state that the “confidence” in the Judiciary must be preserved at all costs- and those costs have been monumental for many citizens of the Commonwealth.

According to the Pennsylvania Campaign Finance Records,  there are visible donations from DeNaples, his son and his businesses to Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice David Wecht totaling $9500, and  to Justice  Kevin Dougherty for $5000.  Federal Judge Mike Fisher received $11,000 when he ran for governor in 2002,  and former Justices Michael Eakin, and Superior Court Judges Mary Jane Bowes and Kate Ford Elliot visibly received  $1000 each in the 2001 elections, some under such names as D&L Realty, Pocono Gardens Real Estate and in the  names of the numerous  DeNaple’s children.

There are a few other things these judges have in common. Although Pennsylvania has 67 Counties, all of the above named judges except for Eakin, are members of the Allegheny County Bar Association, as are six of the seven current Supreme Court Justices (with the exception being Sallie Mundy who was a temporary appointment after Eakin was forced to resign for the Porngate scandal.)  This county which contains the state’s second largest city of Pittsburgh, has a long history of organized crime.  And that is another thing some of these Appellate judges have in common- family criminal and political scandals. The following are just a few.

Former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Stephen Zappala, Sr. – who retired in 2002,  was involved in a 1994 highly public feud where another Justice accused him of wiretapping, fixing cases and trying to run over him with his car. In 2009, a story was published that Zappala was on the payroll of the now defunct Pennsylvania Casino Association, run by DeNaples daughter, Lisa. The nonprofit’s IRS 990 form shows  Zappala being paid 275,000 a year along with Michele Zappala Peck – his daughter- for $65,000 a year.

Lisa DeNaples had been given control of their Mount Airy Casino Resort in Monroe County, as some sort of punishment for her father, who was barred from having a gaming license because of two former racketeering convictions. This was pretentiously arranged by District Attorney Ed Marsico, brother of State Representative Ron Marsico (who is Chair of the House Judiciary Committee).   Justice Zappala’s other son  Gregory  owned the prison involved in the Kids for Cash scandal, but suspiciously was never charged.

Justice Wecht’s father Cyril Wecht, a well-known forensic pathologist, claimed District Attorney  Stephen Zappala, Jr.  had a personal vendetta and was behind his indictment,  when he resigned as county medical examiner on federal charges of using his public office for private gain.  The brother of Justice Kevin Dougherty, who runs the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 had his offices raided in 2016 while under an  ongoing FBI probe, after claiming he got his brother the seat on the Supreme Court Bench.

While this may be politics as usual for some,  the people of Pennsylvania have good reason  not to trust their courts.   There are thousands of victims of the epidemic of public corruption being bankrupted and made homeless by this supposed justice system. The most vulnerable are families who are immediately targeted in Family Court, very often having their homes deliberately forced into foreclosure by unscrupulous judges who trap them in the system for a decade or more.  The estates of the elderly are routinely pilfered  by judges assigning guardians in place of family members, and then issuing orders for legal payments draining inheritances.

Complaints pour into the Judicial Conduct Board average about one thousand per year, about assets being extorted by judges and lawyers, but there are no remedies for damages caused by crimes being committed under color of law.  As the agency that is supposed to be responsible for protecting the public against this rogue legal industry, the Conduct Board has the same ethical problems as the rest of the Judiciary, and is deliberately limited on their powers .

 It has long been suspected that the courts, are being used to fund these politicians with the billions  a year from the family  and estate legal industries. The same dozen or so large law firms in Pennsylvania fund the political machine and they have to be getting that money from somewhere. The family courts are by far the biggest money maker. And who knows if the Denaples real estate companies are getting first dibs on homes that were not in default before the court system engineered the foreclosures by tying up assets for years.

Its time to take out the trash.  Pennsylvania deserves better.