The Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline ruled this week that Philadelphia Municipal Judge James M. DeLeon violated the state Constitution and the Code of Judicial Conduct when he issued a an improper "stay-away order" three years ago on behalf of Romania's honorary consul general here.
Still to be scheduled is a hearing to determine whether DeLeon will face a sanction, which could range from a public reprimand to removal from the bench.
The judge's attorney, Samuel C. Stretton, said he will fight for DeLeon to remain on the bench.
"He is a good judge, with good judicial judgment . . . but in this case he did something stupid," Stretton said. The judge has admitted his wrongdoing, the lawyer said.
The case involves a stay-away order the judge issued on behalf of the Romanian consul general to Philadelphia, George Sfedu, whom the judge met at an informal social event in Center City in August 2005.
Sfedu told the judge about personal problems he was having with a man named Lee Corley, who Sfedu alleged "was having unwanted verbal contact with Sfedu's teenage daughter," according to court documents.
Corley, however, yesterday disputed Sfedu's allegations.
Corley, 44, runs a language school, the French Communication Institute, and contended that he had "never" said anything to Sfedu's daughter.
He said he used to lease space at the Philadelphia Ethical Society, at the southwest corner of Center City's posh Rittenhouse Square. The parents of some of his students would pick them up on Manning Street. The rear of Sfedu's Spruce Street residence faces Manning; its garage also opens out on Manning.
Corley, who is African-American, alleges that Sfedu complained about the cars that rolled up on Manning with parents looking to pick up their kids. Corley also alleges that Sfedu had made racist remarks to him.
When asked yesterday about Corley's allegations, Sfedu said: "This is absurd. Whatever he said, put next to it, 'Absurd.' "
He said he had not made any racist remarks toward Corley.
And Sfedu insisted that "this case is about a minor girl being the victim of potential harm."
His daughter was 15 in 2005 when Corley approached her on Manning Street, he said.
George Bochetto, Sfedu's attorney, when asked later yesterday if he would comment on Corley's allegations, said: "We have no interest in addressing what Mister Corley is saying."
On the stay-away order by Judge DeLeon, Bochetto said the case was "purely one of one human being trying to help another." There was "no money involved" and "no untoward conduct."
At the August 2005 social gathering, the judge, after hearing of Sfedu's complaint against Corley, told Sfedu to have his wife, attorney Susan Satkowski, call his chambers for a stay-away order.
The following month, Satkow-ski did so and DeLeon had his secretary prepare an order, signed by him, forbidding Corley to have contact with Satkowski and the teenage daughter.
The order was mailed to Corley and Satkowski.
The problem was that DeLeon gave no prior notice of the order to Corley and did not conduct a hearing on the matter. The order was not docketed, not made a part of the official record, and was not issued in connection with any pending criminal matter.
After Corley received the order, he said yesterday, he went to the Family Court building at 34 S. 11th St. and found that there was nothing in the court system on the order. He then hired an attorney.
Subsequently, DeLeon in February 2006 presented Corley and his attorney with an order vacating the stay-away order.
However, this second order also was "not filed, docketed or otherwise made a part of any official record," according to court documents. And in this case, the other party in the proceeding, Satkow-ski, was not given any prior notice of this order.
The Court of Judicial Discipline, in its decision dated Wednesday, said it found that DeLeon had allowed a social relationship to influence his judicial conduct, had failed to give the parties involved their full right to be heard, had failed to conduct himself in a manner that promotes confidence in the judiciary's impartiality and had brought disrepute to the judicial office.
Stretton, the judge's attorney, said yesterday that he was "strongly in disagreement" with the court's finding that DeLeon had brought disrepute to the judicial office. He said he would file an objection next week on this issue.
The court is to hold a sanctions hearing after it considers any objections, which are to be filed within 10 days of its decision.
The Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board filed the complaint against DeLeon in August.
Earlier this month, the Court of Judicial Discipline ruled in a case involving another Philadelphia jurist, Traffic Court Judge Willie F. Singletary.
It found he had violated judicial ethics when he asked for campaign contributions at a "blessing of the bikes" gathering of the Philadelphia First State Rattlers Motorcycle Club on April 22, 2007, when he was running for office.