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2 Philly judges removed from bench for ethics violations

Two more Philadelphia judges have been kicked off the bench, the latest development in an FBI probe of judicial corruption here.

Common Pleas Court Judge Angeles Roca.
Common Pleas Court Judge Angeles Roca.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff File Photo

Two more Philadelphia judges have been kicked off the bench, the latest development in an FBI probe of judicial corruption here.

The Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline ruled on Friday that Municipal Court Judge Dawn Segal and Common Pleas Court Judge Angeles Roca be removed from office for their involvement in separate case-fixing schemes.

Lawyers for both judges say they are appealing the decisions to the state Supreme Court.

In October, the disciplinary court found that Roca had unethically intervened in a tax case involving her son by calling then-Municipal Court Judge Joseph Waters Jr., who reached out to Segal, who then reversed herself and issued a ruling favorable to Roca's son.

Waters was sentenced in January 2015 to two years in prison for fixing cases on behalf of campaign donors and political allies. He was released about a month ago.

In July, the court found Segal guilty of seven violations of judicial ethics rules, including bringing the court into disrepute.

"I got something in front of you at 1 o'clock today," Waters told Segal in an intercepted 2011 phone conversation in which he asked for favorable treatment of a politically connected defendant appearing before her.

"Oh, OK. OK," Segal responded, according to the disciplinary panel.

Wiretaps also captured Segal telling Waters she had helped him with her rulings.

In Segal's case, the court acknowledged that Segal had been approached by Waters, "a corrupt judge." And, the court said, Roca at first had only sought advice from Waters before the conversation extended to intervening in her son's case. But neither judge stood up to Waters, the court said.

"As we have said in more detail in prior decisions, when it comes to corrupt acts and the derogation of a fair and just judicial process, a judge must have 'the willingness to stand up for what was right and buck a corrupt tide,'" the court wrote in both rulings.

Roca and Segal, both Democrats, had been on unpaid suspension. If the rulings stand, they would be ineligible to hold judicial office in the future.

"I'm very disturbed by the decision," Roca's attorney, Samuel Stretton, said Tuesday.

Stretton said he was appealing the ruling because the disciplinary court ignored case law and treated Roca's and Segal's cases too similarly.

Segal's lawyer, Stuart Haimowitz, said he also is appealing.

"Judge Segal expected to be sanctioned for what she did. We hoped and expected the Court of Judicial Discipline to have considered Judge Segal's actual conduct and its own precedent when it imposed its sanction," Haimowitz said in a statement Tuesday. "Instead, it appears it took a 'get rid of them all' approach. In so doing, the citizens of Philadelphia County lost a good judge."

Stretton and Haimowitz had sought suspensions for the judges.

In addition to Waters, who pleaded guilty to mail and wire fraud, Municipal Court Judge Joseph O'Neill pleaded guilty in May to federal charges connected to the judicial case-fixing scandal.

O'Neill admitted he lied to FBI agents who were investigating special treatment he gave to a Democratic fund-raiser in 2011, at Waters' request.

"He's a friend of mine, so if you can, take a hard look at it," Waters told O'Neill in a conversation caught on an FBI wiretap.

"No problem," O'Neill replied.