Castille releases letter assailing critic of Pa. court

HARRISBURG - State Supreme Court Justice Ronald D. Castille has released a letter he wrote last month lambasting a vocal critic of his court, and says he may yet pursue disciplinary action against that critic.

Castille suggested he might ask the court's Disciplinary Board to act against Duquesne University law professor Bruce Ledewitz for what Castille called "unfounded and baseless charges of criminal conduct towards this court."

"I am leaving it open," he said yesterday in a telephone interview.

Castille noted that the Disciplinary Board, appointed by and controlled by the Supreme Court, could initiate action against Ledewitz on its own.

This week, that board got a new chairman: Bryn Mawr lawyer Jonathan Newman, the former chairman of the Liquor Control Board and son of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Schultz Newman, who quit last year to join a law firm.

In Castille's letter, the full contents of which were made public yesterday, the justice wrote that Ledewitz should face possible sanctions for violating rules of professional conduct that forbid lawyers from making false statements.

As the letter noted, Ledewitz, in an February interview with the Beaver County Times, called the high court "even more corrupt than the legislature" for rulings arising from the controversial 2005 legislative pay raise. Ledewitz said the justices' decision to strike down the legislators' pay hike while upholding raises for themselves and other judges was "a swindle."

Last week, the Castille letter sparked controversy when Ledewitz revealed parts of it during his testimony at a hearing of the Senate state government committee in Harrisburg. Some senators accused Castille of trying to stifle dissent; the panel voted unanimously to use subpoena power if necessary to get the letter.

Castille initially refused to release the letter but said he relented when asked by Stephen MacNett, general counsel to the Senate Republicans, whom Castille said he has known for years.

The letter, dated March 22, was sent to Ledewitz's colleague, law professor Ken Gormley. In it, Castille declined an invitation to attend a reception held last night at Duquesne for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., saying he did not want to "lend the prestige" of the state's highest court to an event hosted by a school that gave Ledewitz a forum.

"It is disgraceful that Duquesne Law School continues to provide the professor a forum to make these charges," Castille wrote.

The ACLU has offered to defend Ledewitz before the Disciplinary Board if necessary. Ledewitz said in an e-mail yesterday that thus far, he knew of no complaint filed against him.

But hostile words between the Senate committee chairman, Jeffrey Piccola (R., Dauphin), and Castille, a fellow Republican and former Philadelphia district attorney, were still flying yesterday.

"I hope the release of the letter serves as a deterrent for future conduct of intimidating a witness," Piccola said. "It's a crime to intimidate a witness who comes before the court. Shouldn't that apply to the legislature?"

"He's hallucinating," Castille said of Piccola. "That assumes I knew [Ledewitz] was going to testify. I have more important things to do."

Castille's letter provides a glimpse into the lingering effects of a scandal that tarnished the state Supreme Court more than a decade ago. Referring to the impeachment of Justice Rolf Larsen in 1994 following his conviction on a drug-related charge, Castille wrote that the seven justices had "struggled to overcome the problems caused by a former justice of this court."

"We've worked 10 or 12 years doing great things," Castille said yesterday. "But, like in politics, it's hard to lower your negatives."

 


Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com.