A Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice caught up in a government pornographic email scandal stepped down Monday after nearly seven years on the state's highest court, and a judicial ethics board said it would drop its investigation of him as a result.
The Judicial Conduct Board said it would end its investigation of Justice Seamus McCaffery on a number of matters because the most serious sanctions possible were his removal from office and a prohibition against him holding future judicial office.
"In light of my immediate intention to embark on other professional endeavors and paths, I want to make clear that under no circumstances would I request or agree to take senior status in the Pennsylvania judicial system, nor would I ever be a candidate for appointment or election to any Pennsylvania judicial office in the future," McCaffery wrote to Gov. Tom Corbett.
His retirement took effect immediately. The judge did not issue any other public statement on his retirement and his attorney, Bill Winning, declined to comment.
The move followed a disclosure that McCaffery had sent or received 234 emails with sexually explicit content or pornography from late 2008 to May 2012 and an accusation by a fellow justice that McCaffery had tried to coerce him into taking his side against Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille.
McCaffery is at least the fifth public employee — and the highest ranking — to lose his job over the email scandal, which grew out of an internal review by the attorney general's office into how it handled the Jerry Sandusky child molestation investigation. The others, who all resigned, were the secretary of environmental protection, a lawyer in that agency, a state parole board member and a county prosecutor.
McCaffery, a 64-year-old former Philadelphia homicide detective, first served on the municipal court in Philadelphia, where he gained fame as the judge who meted out punishment to unruly fans at "Eagles court" inside Veterans Stadium. He later served on a lower-level state appellate court.
A Democrat, he was elected to the high court in 2007. He would have faced a retention election in 2017 and mandatory retirement in 2020. His salary was $200,000.
Asked about the justice's retirement at a speech before the Pennsylvania Press Club, Corbett said: "We all have the right to retire at any time we want. He's exercised his. I'm not going to comment on that at this point in time."
Castille and three other justices voted Oct. 20 to suspend McCaffery with pay and referred the matter to the Judicial Conduct Board.
The suspension order brought up allegations that McCaffery had tried to exert influence over a Philadelphia judicial assignment and about a traffic citation received by his lawyer-wife, plus referral fees she collected from law firms while working in his chambers.
A court system spokesman said McCaffery's wife, Lise Rapaport, also retired Monday from her $84,000-a-year job as his chief administrative assistant.
McCaffery apologized for his participation in the emails, which also involved employees of the state attorney general's office, but he claimed Castille was out to get him as part of a vendetta.
A third justice, Michael Eakin, then went public with a claim that McCaffery had threatened to leak "inappropriate" emails Eakin had received if he did not side with McCaffery against the chief justice. McCaffery denied that he had threatened Eakin.
McCaffery is the third state justice in the past two decades to leave the court in scandal.
Justice Rolf Larsen, who died in August, was removed from office in 1994 and was later impeached following a conspiracy conviction. He had been convicted of conspiring to accept mood-altering drugs in the names of his employees in order to hide a history of mental illness. The state Senate impeached him for voting on whether to hear cases based on input from an attorney who also was a political supporter.
Justice Joan Orie Melvin resigned as of May 1, a few days before she was sentenced to house arrest for using court and legislative employees to work on her campaigns. That sentence is on hold while she appeals. Justice Corry Stevens was named to replace her until the next judicial election.
With McCaffery's departure, voters next year will have three seats to fill on the state high court.
Corbett, a Republican, would have to submit a nominee to fill McCaffery's seat on a temporary basis by Friday in order for the Senate to consider it when it returns for one more session day this year on Nov. 12. Confirmation would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, now 27-23 in Republican control.