When the news broke last week during a state Senate hearing that Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Ronald D. Castille had sent a letter to a Duquesne Law School professor ripping frequent court critic and Duquesne Law Professor Bruce Ledewitz and suggesting that he might file disciplinary charges, I got a number of calls asking me if we were doing anything on the story.
I told them we were on it. As soon as I got wind of the story, I assigned it to reporter Peter Hall, who writes for The Legal at times, but works primarily on our sister publication Pennsylvania Law Weekly, because I thought it would be better if we took a more in-depth look at the story and explored some of the underlining issues surrounding it.
Well, Pete delivered, and his 2,000-plus word story will be in Monday’s Legal and PLW. He talked to a number of people around the state to get their perspective on the situation and Ledewitz. It’s an informative, interesting read.
What the letter controversy has done, at least in the short-term, is re-ignite tensions between some members of the Legislature and the Supreme Court. As I wrote in a column last fall, the Harrisburg insiders I spoke with then said the legislators were furious with the court for what they saw as a flawed decision in the pay raise case. Those same people predicted there might be some changes aimed at the courts, such as throwing out the tie between federal and state judicial salaries. Castille’s letter might be all the ammunition some in Harrisburg need to step up those efforts.
But what about the letter itself? Read below.
What follows is the full text of Justice Ronald D. Castille’s letter to Duquesne University School of Law Professor Ken Gormley, declining an invitation to appear at a tribute to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. It was released to the news media by Steve MacNett, general counsel to the Republicans in the state Senate.
March 22, 2007
Dear Professor Gormley: Thank you for your kind invitation to the Carol Los Mansmann Award for Distinguished Public Service honoring U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. Justice Alito is certainly an appropriate nominee given his public service to the State of New Jersey as Attorney General and on the Bench of the U.S. Circuit Court for the Third Circuit.
Though I would have liked to attend this prestigious event, I am declining the invitation. At the present time I feel it would be inappropriate to lend the prestige of this Court to this event by my attendance as long as one of your cohorts in the teaching profession at Duquesne Law School continues his unfounded, slanderous, and libelous attacks on the integrity of this Court. His latest attacks appear in the Beaver County Times dated February 22, 2007 in an article where the professor is quoted as stating that the seven Justices of this Court are “even more corrupt than the Legislature” and stating that the judicial compensation opinion was a “judicial swindle.”
While these statements may be the personal opinion of your colleague, they are charges that an attorney cannot make against the Supreme Court and its members without subjecting that attorney to possible sanctions by the Disciplinary Board. The charges appear to me to be clear violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct and therefore worthy of the Board’s attention.
It is disgraceful that Duquesne Law School continues to provide the professor a forum to make these charges. This Court has struggled to overcome the problems caused by the earlier impeachment of a former Justice of this Court. It is not helpful to our efforts where your colleague continues to level unfounded and baseless charges of criminal conduct towards this Court.
You may share these thoughts with whomever you deem appropriate.
JUSTICE RONALD D. CASTILLE
So there’s the letter. What do you think? If you’ve got an opinion, let us know.
–Hank Grezlak, Editor-in-Chief