Make him a full-time landlord, not a city judge

A panel found Philadelphia Judge Willis W. Berry Jr. committed theft of services by running his apartment rental business from his chambers.

Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Willis W. Berry Jr. should be removed from the bench and stripped of his pension for brazenly running a real estate business out of his chambers with city court staff.

A state judicial disciplinary court on Thursday made the compelling case for Berry's ouster from an elected post that pays him nearly $162,000 a year. It concluded that Berry broke the law by using city workers and office equipment.

That allegation should be pursued by city and state prosecutors. If nothing else, prosecutors' inquiries will serve as a warning against other city officials using taxpayer-paid staff to conduct personal business dealings.

To restore public confidence in the courts, the most important move will be to strip Berry, 66, of his judicial robes.

The state Court of Judicial Discipline all but sealed Berry's fate as a judge when it ruled that he had brought the Pennsylvania judiciary into "disrepute" by overseeing a stable of North Philadelphia apartments out of his Criminal Justice Center chambers.

The court described a sweet arrangement under which the judge operated his business for 12 years, "with absolutely no overhead," by having his judicial secretary manage the operation from her desk.

The court ruled, properly, that the setup "demonstrated a flagrant, open disregard for the dignity of judicial office." It also said the use of staff during the work day amounted to "misappropriation" of taxpayer funds that was "broad, bold, and impossible to overlook."


Berry's landlord dealings - first exposed by The Inquirer in 2007 - landed him in court this week on another front. A North Philadelphia woman is suing him for fraud on the claim that, while serving as her attorney in 1993, Berry duped her out of a valuable property. The trial will restart in the fall, after a mistrial declared Tuesday caused by a defense-witness tirade.


It's impossible to square Berry's various landlord dealings with being an objective judge who rules on the law - no matter how unblemished Berry's actual courtroom record may be.

The judge's lame defense of his landlord-in-robes work is that he was guilty of "stupidity," and has since stopped working from the office. More like it, this was a case of being dumb as a fox.

In setting the penalty, the disciplinary court's course is clear: It should send Berry back to being a full-time landlord - without the distraction of his side job as a city judge.