Thursday, February 11, 2016

Philadelphia judge barred from bench for life by state court

File photo: Judge Thomas Nocella  has been off the bench since November.
File photo: Judge Thomas Nocella has been off the bench since November.

A Philadelphia Common Pleas judge has been banned from the bench for life by a state judicial oversight court for misrepresenting himself as a candidate and for dealings with a city political action committee.

Thomas M. Nocella, who was first appointed to a city judgeship in 2008 by then Gov. Ed Rendell, first got into hot water in 2009 for his dealings with a city-based PAC called The Appreciation Fund. The PAC was closely associated with deceased former political boss Carol King Campbell and other leaders of the city's Democratic Party machine.

Incidentally, while the city Ethics Board was investigating Nocella for his involvement with The Appreciation Fund, the Philadelphia Bar Association recommended Nocella for a judgeship prior to the 2009 primary election.

Both Nocella's involvement with the PAC and misrepresentations to the bar association that won him the organization's recommendation in 2009 were the reasons cited for his lifetime ban from the bench, according to the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline in its ruling announced today. He was first suspended by the state Supreme Court last year.

"Nocella, as a judicial candidate in 2009 and 2011, made numerous misrepresentations to the Philadelphia Bar Association's Commission on Judicial Selection and Retention and in so doing violated the Code of Judicial Conduct and the Pennsylvania Constitution," the court said in a press release. "Additionally, the Court concluded that Nocella, as counsel to the Appreciation Fund and as a Municipal Court Judge, violated the Pennsylvania Constitution when he made repeated misrepresentations to counsel for the Board of Ethics."

Nocella's attorney, Samuel Stretton, said he would immediately appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

"I can't fathom what got into the court," he said, noting Nocella's conduct in question had nothing to do with his work as a judge inside a courtroom. "Their decisions are so different you can’t get a sense of what they’re going to do."

He noted another recent decision by the court — to give a two-month suspension to a Lancaster County district judge who admitted to fixing her own parking tickets — as an example of a much different punishment for actions taken by a judge in her official capacity.

"If you don’t give a sense of uniformity, it affects the integrity of the system," Stretton said of the court's punishments. "And it makes it very difficult to be a judge."


Contact Brian X. McCrone at 215-854-2267 or Follow @brianxmccrone on Twitter.

Contact the Breaking News Desk at 215-854-2443; Follow @phillynews on Twitter.

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