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MATTER JUDICIAL INQUIRY AND REVIEW BOARD v. JUDGE BERNARD SNYDER (03/20/87)

decided: March 20, 1987.

IN THE MATTER OF THE JUDICIAL INQUIRY AND REVIEW BOARD, PETITIONER,
v.
JUDGE BERNARD SNYDER, RESPONDENT



Report, Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Recommendation of Judicial Inquiry and Review Board filed July 1, 1985.

COUNSEL

Leonard Schaeffer, Philadelphia, for petitioner.

Richard E. McDevitt, Exec. Director, Judicial Inquiry and Review Board. G. Thomas Miller, Special Counsel for Judicial Inquiry and Review Board, Harrisburg, for respondent.

Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Nix, C.j., files a concurring opinion in which he joins the majority. Flaherty, J., joins the majority opinion and Nix's, C.j., concurring opinion. McDermott and Papadakos, JJ., file concurring and dissenting opinions.

Author: Hutchinson

[ 514 Pa. Page 144]

Opinion OF THE COURT

We have before us three petitions: one filed by the Judicial Inquiry and Review Board (Board) on July 1, 1985, recommending that respondent, Judge Bernard Snyder, be removed from the office of Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County and two petitions filed by Judge Snyder.*fn1

The Board's recommendation is based on its findings: that in the case of Edgehill v. Municipal Publications, Inc., C.P. Philadelphia, May Term, 1972, No. 2371, respondent

[ 514 Pa. Page 145]

    held frequent ex parte conferences with counsel for the plaintiff without informing defense counsel; that these discussions centered on evidentiary and other legal issues involved in this bench trial; that respondent permitted both counsel to engage in unprofessional conduct during the trial, without sanction or disciplinary action; that respondent entered an exceptionally large award of damages for the plaintiff without an evidentiary hearing and based those damages on information obtained outside the record and that respondent presided at a hearing on a motion for his own recusal, acting simultaneously as judge and as witness.*fn2 These actions caused the Board to conclude that respondent, by violating Canons 1, 2 and 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, 455 Pa. xxx (1973), had violated Article V, Section 17(b) of the Pennsylvania Constitution*fn3 and that the appropriate sanction for such behavior would be removal from the office of Judge.

Observance of these canons by judges is essential to public faith in the justice of our Commonwealth's judicial system. They are positive commands, adopted by this Court, with the force of law. They bind all judges and justices and will be enforced by this Court's imposition of discipline when appropriate. In this case, our de novo review of the record persuades us, as ultimate fact finder, that the Board's findings are correct and the recommended discipline of removal appropriate. Respondent has, therefore, forfeited any possibility of holding judicial office in accordance with Article V, Section 18(l) of our Pennsylvania Constitution.

Specifically, the Board concluded that Judge Snyder had violated Canon 1 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which provides:

[ 514 Pa. Page 146]

A Judge Should Uphold the Integrity and Independence of the Judiciary

An independent and honorable judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society. A judge should participate in establishing, maintaining, and enforcing, and should himself observe, high standards of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved. The provisions of this Code should be construed and applied to further that objective.

455 Pa. at xxx (1973).

The Board concluded that Judge Snyder had "brought discredit to himself and the judiciary in general by the manner in which he presided at the Edghill [sic] trial" and the ancillary recusal hearing.*fn4 Board's Report, Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Recommendations, filed July 1, 1985, (Board's Report), Conclusion of Law No. 14. In this regard the Board explicitly cited Judge Snyder's action in "presiding at the hearing on the recusal motion, knowing that he had been subpoenaed as a witness at that hearing, and thus, that he would be called upon to make evidentiary rulings on objections to his own testimony." Id., Conclusion of Law No. 12.

The Board further concluded that Judge Snyder had violated Canon 2, which provides in pertinent part:

A Judge Should Avoid Impropriety and the Appearance of Impropriety in All His Activities

A. A judge should respect and comply with the law and should conduct himself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

B. A judge should not allow his family, social, or other relationships to influence his judicial conduct or judgment. He should not lend the prestige of his office to advance the private interests of others; nor should he

[ 514 Pa. Page 147]

    convey or knowingly permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence him. He should not testify voluntarily as a character witness.

Commentary: Public confidence in the judiciary is eroded by irresponsible or improper conduct by judges. A judge must avoid all impropriety and appearance of impropriety. He must expect to be the subject of constant public scrutiny. He must therefore accept restrictions on his conduct that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen and should do so freely and willingly.

The testimony of a judge as a character witness injects the prestige of his office into the proceeding in which he testifies and may be misunderstood to be an official testimonial. This Canon, however, does not afford him a privilege against testifying in response to an official summons.

455 Pa. at xxx-xxxi.

Here the Board cited five specific acts which each represented a violation of this Canon: (1) the rendition of a verdict in the Edgehill case while a request for his recusal or disqualification from further action in the proceeding remained pending, Board's Report, Conclusion of Law No. 9; (2) the rendition of a verdict in the Edgehill case upon learning that defense counsel had requested the assignment of a judge from another county to hear argument on their recusal motion, Id. Conclusion of Law No. 11; (3) Judge Snyder's action in presiding over the recusal motion knowing that he would be a witness, Id., Conclusion of Law No. 12, see text supra at 3; (4) the manifestation of bias in his refusal to admit the testimony of one of his former law clerks on the issue of his bias and partiality at the recusal hearing, Id., Conclusion of Law No. 13, and (5) Judge Snyder's "socializing with the attorney for plaintiff in the Sentner case,*fn5 prior to the entry of a decision in that case," Id., Conclusion of Law No. 15.

[ 514 Pa. Page 148]

Finally, the Board concluded that Judge Snyder had violated the following sections of Canon 3:

A Judge Should Perform the Duties of His Office Impartially and Diligently

The judicial duties of a judge take precedence over all his other activities. His judicial duties include all the duties of his office prescribed by law. In the performance of these duties, the following standards apply:

A. Adjudicative Responsibilities

(2) A judge should maintain order and decorum in proceedings before him.

(3) A judge should be patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers, and others with whom he deals in his official capacity, and should require similar conduct of lawyers, and of his staff, court officials, and others subject to his direction and control.

Commentary: The duty to hear all proceedings fairly and with patience is not inconsistent with the duty to dispose promptly of the business of the court. Courts can be efficient and ...


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