A former justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has made public an affidavit contending that the court’s chief justice, Thomas G. Saylor, plotted against her in retaliation for what he called “her minority agenda.”
Saylor denied the charge, calling it “false and offensive.”
Cynthia Baldwin, the second Black woman to serve on the state’s highest court, released the affidavit after she was reprimanded Wednesday by the Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Board over legal errors while representing Pennsylvania State University during the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal.
Baldwin said the chief justice’s reported remark reflected “bigotry” and was symptomatic of an eight-year unfair ordeal that ended in her punishment.
Baldwin, 75, a Democrat, served on the high court with Republican Saylor, 73, in 2006 and 2007. She later became chief counsel for Penn State when the Sandusky case exploded.
Former Common Pleas Court Judge Barry Feudale signed the sworn affidavit last year. In it, he says Saylor spoke with him at a judicial conference in 2012 in Hershey, complimented him on his oversight of the grand jury investigating Sandusky, and told him a disciplinary complaint would be brought against Baldwin in connection with the case. Saylor urged him to assist the inquiry into the complaint, Feudale said.
Saylor said of Baldwin, “She caused us a lot of trouble when she was on the Supreme Court because of her minority agenda,” according to the affidavit.
Feudale said he was “stunned.” He said he reminded Saylor that disclosure of grand jury material was forbidden.
In a statement on Saylor’s behalf on Thursday, the Supreme Court press office said: “The chief justice categorically denies making any statements about Justice Baldwin causing ‘trouble’ on the court due to a ‘minority agenda.’”
Stacey Witalec, the court’s spokesperson, confirmed that Saylor and Feudale spoke that day in 2012, as did a former top court administrator in a separate interview. In a statement, Witalec said Saylor had asked Feudale about the legal work being done on behalf of Penn State in the scandal. She said such questioning was done “entirely appropriately.” That was disputed by former Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille and others in interviews with The Inquirer.
Feudale declined to comment.
Baldwin said she informed Saylor about the affidavit last year. He later recused himself from the case involving the complaint against her and did not participate when the court voted Feb. 19 to have the Disciplinary Board reprimand her.
The court initially said in a statement Thursday that Saylor had recused because he and Baldwin had “shared service” on the bench. The statement made no mention of the affidavit.
After The Inquirer raised questions, the court amended its statement to say Saylor withdrew after “Feudale’s false claims were brought to his attention.” The new statement cited both the allegations and his service aside Baldwin as reasons for his recusal.
As is customary, the high court previously did not provide any reason for his recusal.
In separate interviews, two lawyers told The Inquirer that Feudale had told them of Saylor’s approach years before the 2019 affidavit. One said the judge, highly upset, had raised the matter in 2012. Another, Chester County lawyer Samuel Stretton, said Feudale told him about the 2012 conversation about four years ago.
Feudale, 73, a Democrat, was a Northumberland County Court for a dozen years and later became an appointed senior judge overseeing statewide grand jury probes into Sandusky and political corruption.
The high court abruptly removed him from that role in 2013 after he clashed with then-Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane. Kane said he had once brandished a knife in her office, a contention Feudale denied.
In an interview with The Inquirer on Thursday, Castille, a Republican whom Saylor replaced in 2015, said Saylor’s talk with Feudale had been a bad idea. Castille noted that he, as chief justice, had named Feudale as the judge in charge of the grand jury while Saylor was merely one of six other associate justices.
“Other justices should not go to grand jury judges until they go through the chief justice,” Castille said. “Because it’s all confidential, all that grand jury stuff.”
Two law professors who are experts on judicial ethics said the allegations were troubling.
Charles G. Geyh of the Indiana University law school said Saylor might have violated Pennsylvania’s ethics rules for judges. Geyh said the justice may have improperly “engaged in ex parte communication with another judge” because the conversation took place behind Baldwin’s back.
Geyh added: “Having a judge approach a judge who is overseeing this grand jury process smacks of an abuse of power.”
Stephen Gillers, a New York University law professor and author of a textbook on attorney and judicial ethics, noted that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court votes on discipline for lawyers.
“The Supreme Court justice should not be talking to anyone outside the court itself about an impending or pending matter that could come before the court,” Gillers said.
However, Bruce Green, director of a center for ethics at Fordham University Law School, said the details of the conversation were crucial.
“It depends on what was being said,” Green said. “If all Justice Saylor said was, cooperate with the disciplinary investigation, that doesn’t sound so nefarious.”
In interviews, Baldwin said she was first told by the disciplinary panel of its inquiry into her in 2012, though no complaint was brought until 2017.
The disciplinary complaint against her found that she erred in representing Penn State as its top lawyer and three top university administrators at the same time because their interests conflicted. The administrators later faced criminal charges for allegedly covering up Sandusky’s misconduct. Two served brief prison terms. The other, former university president Graham B. Spanier, had his conviction overturned on appeal.
Feudale and another Common Pleas Court judge wrote opinions saying Baldwin acted properly, as did a panel of lawyers who held hearings on the disciplinary complaint. But her actions were condemned by Superior Court and the Supreme Court, leading to Wednesday’s reprimand.
Baldwin said Feudale’s account shone a light on a deeply flawed system. Until she read it, she said, “I thought the process was aberrant, but I never could figure out why.”