Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

'I took care of it,' judge says on tape as FBI listens in

Not long after Dawn Segal parlayed a high ballot position into a Philadelphia judgeship, a corrupt colleague pulled her into the middle of an FBI investigation.

Dawn Segal has been suspended from Municipal Court.
Dawn Segal has been suspended from Municipal Court.Read more

Not long after Dawn Segal parlayed a high ballot position into a Philadelphia judgeship, a corrupt colleague pulled her into the middle of an FBI investigation.

"I got something in front of you at one o'clock today," Municipal Court Judge Joseph C. Waters Jr. told Segal in a telephone conversation in 2011, as he asked her to give favorable treatment to a politically connected defendant appearing before her in a minor lawsuit.

"Oh, OK. OK," Segal said, unaware that federal agents had secretly recorded that conversation - and others in which Waters asked for favors in cases.

The federal wiretaps show that she repeatedly called Waters back after ruling to tell him she had helped out.

"I took care of it," she said in one call. In another, she told him: "All for you. Anything."

Waters is now in federal prison on a fraud conviction.

Segal, 56, a former deputy city solicitor, is fighting to keep the job she won after challenging Democratic Party bosses. She has been suspended from Municipal Court as she awaits a verdict in her ethics case before the state Court of Judicial Discipline.

In a 21-page legal filing this week, Segal acknowledged that she was wrong in fielding Waters' calls, in failing to report them to judicial authorities, and in deciding not to recuse herself from the cases.

But Segal insisted that she decided all of the legal matters based on merit and was not swayed by Waters' requests.

"We vehemently deny that her conduct . . . prejudiced the administration of justice," her lawyer, Stuart L. Haimowitz, said in the filing to the disciplinary court.

As for her return calls to Waters, Segal said that although she let him believe she was "helping him out," she had actually ruled on the facts of the cases and judged them only on their merits.

The filing said Segal still cannot explain why she continued her improper contacts with Waters for 10 months.

Segal is one of several judges who have been swept up in the FBI's investigation of judicial corruption in Philadelphia.

In 2013, nine judges from the now-defunct Traffic Court were indicted.

The FBI's investigation also led to felony charges filed in March against Municipal Court Judge Joseph J. O'Neill, who authorities say lied to federal agents during the investigation. His trial is pending.

And in December, Common Pleas Court Judge Angeles Roca was charged with ethics violations. She is suspended without pay pending the outcome of her trial before the state judicial panel.

She is accusing of asking Waters to seek Segal's help in a civil case involving Roca's son, a barber facing a hearing over $5,000 in back taxes. Roca faces many of the same charges that were lodged against Segal, including bringing the judiciary into disrepute. A date has yet to be set for Roca's trial.

Municipal Court, with 30 judges, handles minor civil lawsuits and holds preliminary hearings on criminal cases. It decides if criminal cases advance to Common Pleas Court, which has 100 judges.

The FBI investigation of the two courts surfaced in 2013, when federal prosecutors subpoenaed records from the campaigns of Segal, Roca, Waters, and O'Neill.

Prosecutors later filed criminal charges against Waters and O'Neill. Segal and Roca face only civil ethics charges.

In March 2015, state judicial investigators released their initial allegations against Segal.

At a judicial hearing in January, Segal acknowledged making some mistakes, but insisted that all of her legal decisions were grounded in the law.

In her filing this week, Segal made one final pitch to the court before it issues its verdict, which is expected soon.

A key part of Segal's defense is her assertion that she wanted to promptly report her contacts with Waters but was asked by federal prosecutors to keep the investigation confidential.

Prosecutors for the judicial court noted that more than two years passed between Waters' first call to Segal and the time a federal prosecutor asked her not to talk about the investigation.

Segal did not directly address why she did not report Waters' conduct to state officials during those many months.

She first notified state authorities about it on Sept. 29, 2014. That was five days after Waters' arrest was announced and details of Segal's involvement with his maneuvers became public.

One of the most serious judicial charges against Segal involves a felony gun charge she reduce to a misdemeanor after getting a call from Waters. After her ruling, she called Waters to say she resolved "your friend's thing."

Segal's filing said she made a legal error in lowering the gun charge, but that it was "not unusual" for judges to make that kind of mistake in Philadelphia.

She said that she "had no criminal law experience" before joining the bench, having previously focused mainly on civil cases.

The felony gun case was part of an elaborate FBI sting operation to catch Waters. It was a phony arrest, and the defendant in the case was an FBI plant.

In a novel argument, Segal's filing questioned whether there was any basis for the judicial charges against her because everything involved in the arrest had been fabricated.

"As a matter of law, 'special consideration' cannot be given to someone who does not exist and was not facing any actual criminal charges," the filing said.