fair to him. Once he got inside, he was forced to go through a metal detector, just like anyone who lacks one of the passes issued by Sheriff David Dalrymple. I saw him as he wandered down a hallway, with a bewildered look on his face, obviously well outside his comfort zone. It had to be a humbling experience for a man who has served as Cumberland County's District Attorney, Superior Court Judge and Supreme Court Justice.
On December 8, in a 51-page complaint, Justice Eakin was charged with violating all kinds of Judicial Canons as well as the Pennsylvania Constitution for acting like a human being. Though there was absolutely no hint of any evidence that he engaged in any ex parte conversations with attorneys about pending cases, he did use a state -supplied computer to send and mostly receive naughty emails. The kind most of us get every day.
Or so he thought.
The presiding judge in the three-judge panel that heard the evidence yesterday was one of Northampton County's own - Northampton County Judge turned Superior Court Judge Jack Panella. Judge Panella started by explaining why the hearing was being held in Easton. "There's a very simple and short answer," he said. "I am from Easton."
Judge Panella was joined by Judge David J Barton, a Magisterial District Judge, and Carmella Mullen, a lay member first appointed to the Court by Governor Corbett. Both Barton and Mullen hail from Allegheny County.
The case against Justice Eakin was very simple. It consisted mainly of the hard drive containing the emails.
Eakin was represented by prominent attorney Bill Costopoulos.
He called two of Eakin's staffers, who were discussed suggestively in a few emails exchanged between Eakin and a former Assistant DA who worked with Eakin when he was Cumberland County's DA. Both of these women spoke on behalf of Eakin. Both stated that he has always treated them professionally and has never made suggestive comments to either of them. They both denied that they had every gone on any outing or trip with him or anyone else in this group of golfing and fishing buddies. When one of them married recently, Justice Eakin attended the ceremony. Both said they respect him.
In addition to these two staffers, Sam Stretton testified as an expert on judicial ethics. He attended Dickinson School of law with Eakin, and represents a large number of lawyers and judges charged with ethical breaches. Stretton's conclusion is that there was no ethical breach by Eakin because his emails were for a very limited group of close friends. He said they were "locker room mentality" and that "judges have to have a sense of privacy in their lives."
"There's not a man or judge alive who has not looked at pornography and laughed at off color jokes," he added. He warned that the Judicial Conduct Board was on a slippery slope and worried about "thought control."
But Disciplinary Counsel Elizabeth Flaherty called the emails a "runaway train" and her associate, Francis Puskas, told the Court that one has to wonder whether Eakin has a conscious or unconscious bias.
That concern was answered by Attorney John Hare, an appeals lawyer who read through 20 years of decisions written by Eakin. "Nothing in them suggests anything that is inappropriate," he testified.
Eakin himself repeatedly apologized and nearly broke down a few times.
As I left, two local lawyers told me that Justice Eakin should be held to a higher standard and suspended. But a reporter with one of the TV stations called the whole hearing a waste of everyone's time. I'm with her.
But it's not up to me. Cases like these are why Judge Panella gets the big bucks.
Judge Panella, incidentally, made it a point to thank Sheriff David Dalrymple, Executive John Brown and President Judge Steve Baratta for their cooperation and willingness to provide a forum.