Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Max Baer's recent comments about a Lackawanna County judge who may have to answer to the Court of Judicial Discipline to (CJD has raised the ire of legal observers.
Baer told the Scranton Times-Tribune on Aug. 23, that Judge Terrence Nealon is “a fine man” and “a fine judge” whose “dumb" mistake should not derail his judicial career.
The controversy involves Nealon’s 2004 email to his Democratic Party colleagues about a redistricting effort. The email, a copy of which was obtained by the Times-Tribune, was shown to him Aug. 18. Nealon admitted that he had an “ethical lapse” when he sent the message.
The communication provided instructions on how to oppose a voter redistricting move. The redistricting was a Republican effort, which the Democrats opposed.
Nealon’s email not only told Democrats how to counter the effort, but he also urged that no one be told that the redistricting case had been assigned only to him. He wrote that Anthony Lomma, the County Board of Elections lawyer, and Cathy Hardaway, the County Director of Voter Education, believed it was assigned to be reviewed by a three-judge panel. But the court administrator had assigned it only to him.
“But whatever you do, don't tell anyone that this petition has been assigned to me," Nealon said in his email. “Lomma and Hardaway think it's going to be heard by a panel but Billy Murray only assigned it to me. But I'm the only one who knows that and we don't want to educate the other side on this and have them demand a panel instead.”
While Nealon’s actions caused anger, Baer’s remarks increased the uproar. Although he stated that Nealon’s action were improper and diminished the reputation of the judiciary – he did praise him.
Baer tried to clarify his comments saying that he did not imply Nealon should not be disciplined. “People are reading too much into an offhand comment,” Baer was quoted as saying.
But, a spokesperson for Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts (PMC), a nonprofit organization that wants to reform the court system in Pennsylvania, said it would be "prudent" for Baer to recuse himself if the case comes before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
“This could come before the Supreme Court,” said PMC deputy Director Shira Goodman. “He really should not have spoken.”