Supreme Court disbars Philly municipal judge who admitted case-fixing

By Jim Boyle | Dec 9, 2014

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court officially disbarred former Philadelphia Municipal Court

judge Joseph Waters, months after he pleaded guilty to federal investigators' charges that he fixed two cases while serving on the bench.

Waters resigned from his post in September, just hours before the federal charges were announced. Governor Ed Rendell appointed Waters, a retired marine and Philadelphia police officer, to the municipal court in 2009.

Waters ran for and lost the Democratic nomination in the 2013 Superior Court election to Jack McVay, Jr., an Allegheny County Common Pleas Court judge, with 55.46 to 44.54 percent defeat.

According to documents filed in the case, on Sept. 30, 2011, Waters was asked by a politically active business owner to use his office to achieve a favorable outcome in a small claims case filed in Philadelphia Municipal Court against his real estate management company.

Waters called two other municipal judges, assigned to the case on different dates, and asked them to rule in favor, saying that the defendant was a friend.  By using his influence, Waters ensured that the plaintiff in the small claims case would not collect $2,733 in unpaid fees owed to it for security services it delivered to the defendant’s company.

The charges outlined a second scheme in which Waters used his position as a judge to facilitate a favorable outcome in a criminal firearms case.  According to the information, Person #1 urged a witness cooperating with the government, “CW#1,” to contribute money to help pay down debts Waters had incurred while campaigning for a position on the Municipal Court.

In January 2010, CW#1, gave Waters $1,000 in cash.  As he accepted the money, Waters told CW#1 that he would help with future problems that he or his friends may encounter in the court system.  The information further alleged that between 2010 and 2012, CW#1 provided gifts and cash contributions to Waters that were not reported on Waters’ campaign finance reporting forms.

In May 2012, CW#1 asked Waters for his assistance with a firearms prosecution pending in the Municipal Court.  CW#1 introduced Waters to an undercover agent (“UC#1”) as a business associate.  CW#1 and UC#1 asked Waters to help UC #1’s “cousin” who had been arrested for felony possession of a firearm.

On July 23, 2012, Waters called Judge #1 alerting Judge #1 to the preliminary hearing of a “friend” for the firearms charge and asked Judge #1 to “help him.”  According to the information, at a July 24, 2012 preliminary hearing, Judge #1, without proper legal basis, reduced the felony firearms charge to a misdemeanor.

U.S. District Court Judge Juan R. Sanchez scheduled a sentencing hearing for Jan. 22, 2015.  Waters faces a maximum statutory sentence of 40 years in prison, a fine of up to $500,000 and up to three years of supervised release.

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