Phila. Judge Nocella suspended by Pa. Supreme Court

By Jon Campisi | Nov 12, 2012

The Philadelphia judge who has been accused by the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board of violating the state constitution and the Pennsylvania Code of Judicial Conduct for allegedly not divulging certain cases he was previously involved with while going through the vetting process for judgeship has been temporarily suspended by the state Supreme Court.

Last month, the JCB filed formal charges against Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Thomas M. Nocella over claims that the jurist never disclosed that he was a defendant in legal matters to the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Commission on Judicial Selection and Retention.

That body conducts an internal review process and seeks out information on candidates running for judicial office.

Judges of all levels are elected in Pennsylvania.

The JCB, in its Oct. 23 complaint, accused Nocella of failing to make the commission aware of litigation Nocella had been involved with around the time he was running for office.

The JCB asserts that during his 2011 candidacy, Nocella failed to disclose to the Bar Association’s commission material facts that occurred since Nocella submitted a 2009 Personal Data Questionnaire, which he had filled out while previously running for a spot on the Common Pleas Court bench.

Nocella ended up losing that 2009 Democratic primary bid, but was elected during the 2011 general election.

One example given of Nocella’s alleged untruthfulness had to do with the case of Straughter-Carter Post Noc. 6627, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States et al. v. Monastery Hill Partners, L.P. et al.

While Nocella did disclose to the Bar Association’s commission that he was named as a party in that case, he left out information in his questionnaire including facts that he misrepresented his authority to execute documents and collected a $60,000 fee at the property’s closing, the JCB alleged.

In his 2011 form, Nocella checked off “No” in response to a question asking him if any material facts occurred since he last ran for judgeship, (in 2009), that would require a change in any of the answers he previously gave.

The JCB alleges that this was untruthful.

Nocella served as a Philadelphia Municipal Court judge prior to his election to Common Pleas Court.

In its Nov. 9 per curiam order, the Supreme Court suspended Nocella with pay and benefits still intact.

“In view of the compelling and immediate need to protect and preserve the integrity of the Unified Judicial System and the administration of justice for citizens of this Commonwealth, Judge Thomas M. Nocella is hereby relieved of any and all judicial and administrative responsibilities as a Common Pleas Court Judge and ordered not to take any further administrative or judicial action whatsoever in any case or proceeding now or hereinafter pending in the First Judicial District until further Order of this Court,” the high court wrote in its order.

Justice Joan Orie Melvin, who herself is currently suspended from duty due to pending public corruption charges, did not participate in the Nocella decision.

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