State judicial authorities moved Wednesday to sanction two Philadelphia Municipal Court judges caught up in the corruption scandal that sent one of their colleagues to federal prison this year.
The Judicial Conduct Board filed seven ethics counts against Judges Dawn Segal and Joseph O'Neill, and moved to suspend them for improper conversations with Judge Joseph C. Waters Jr. about cases before their courts.
Waters, 61, was sentenced in January to two years in prison after admitting he used his influence to try to fix cases before his colleagues on behalf of political supporters and friends.
Neither Segal nor O'Neill has been charged, but the conduct board faulted them for having and then failing to report communications with Waters about cases outside the courtroom.
The board will present its findings to the Court of Judicial Discipline, which could remove the judges from office. Both were removed from active duties the day Waters pleaded guilty last year.
The conduct board also brought a case against Waters on Wednesday, but since he has admitted in federal court many of the allegations against him in the ethics case, its outcome is likely all but determined.
"They did nothing wrong. It's just a tragedy," said Samuel Stretton, O'Neill's lawyer, of his client and Segal. "Joe Waters did some crazy things, made some stupid calls. Their biggest mistake was not turning him in."
Segal's attorney, Stuart L. Haimowitz, defended his client's reputation in a statement Wednesday, saying she made decisions in each case based on the law and the facts presented in court. "Judge Segal is a good and honest judge, and I look forward to resolving her case before the court," he said.
The ethics charges filed Wednesday focus on three cases Waters sought to fix.
The first involved Samuel G. Kuttab, a midlevel player in Democratic city politics, and a company he owned that was embroiled in a 2011 lawsuit over a $2,700 debt.
Waters admitted he made two calls in hope of swaying the case in Kuttab's favor - the first to Segal, who granted Kuttab's company a continuance, and the second to O'Neill, who eventually found in Kuttab's favor. Kuttab pleaded guilty March 5 to federal charges stemming from his involvement in that case.
The second case came months later, when Waters pressed Segal to review a decision she made in a civil case involving a company owned by a friend.
And in July 2012, Waters again turned to Segal when one of his campaign donors asked for help involving a felony gun case against her cousin. Unbeknownst to either judge, however, the cousin was actually an undercover agent facing fabricated criminal charges. When the case came up for a hearing in July 2012, Segal reduced his felony gun charge to a misdemeanor.
Segal and O'Neill say their conversations with Waters had no bearing on their decisions.
But the charges filed Wednesday allege that by discussing their cases with him, they broke ethics rules.
Haimowitz, Segal's lawyer, said Wednesday his client reported her conduct to judicial authorities as soon as she was able. Federal prosecutors had asked her to keep quiet while she cooperated with them in building the case against Waters, he said.