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A Delco judge is chastised in letter

It was sent by a state judicial board. Haverford Township residents had complained of political involvement.

A Delaware County Court judge has been sent a private "Letter of Counsel" by the state's Judicial Conduct Board regarding his involvement in Haverford Township politics.

The letter to Judge Kenneth A. Clouse, of Haverford, is regarded by the board as the "most serious form of private disposition" the board can issue and acts as a form of private reprimand. However, the board concluded the circumstances did not warrant the filing of formal charges with the Court of Judicial Discipline. Clouse's attorney also said there was not enough evidence for the complaints.

The board investigated charges brought by a group of Haverford Township residents who contended Clouse, a Republican, continued to involve himself in township politics after he was elected to the bench. Clouse was a Haverford Township commissioner before becoming a judge in 1991. He served as president judge of Delaware County's Common Pleas Court between 2001 and 2006.

Andy Lewis, a Haverford Township commissioner and a Republican candidate for County Council, was one of about eight people who filed complaints with the Judicial Conduct Board. Lewis received a letter Wednesday notifying him of the board's decision.

"After appropriate investigation . . .the Board unanimously voted to authorize a Letter of Counsel disposition," the letter said. The contents of the letter issued by the board to Clouse are regarded as private and not part of the public record. The Inquirer received a copy of the letter sent to the complainants informing them of the results of the investigation.

Yesterday, Lewis said he first met Clouse at a small gathering in late 2003 when he was considering a run for township commissioner.

"The first thing he said to me was 'I'm not here,' " said Lewis. Later, Lewis said, he learned judges are not to engage in political activity and filed the complaint in June 2004.

Haverford Township's Republican Party has been roiled in recent years by feuding among various factions.

One of the other complaints filed against Clouse, according to a complainant, Patricia Biswanger, alleged the judge had "gerrymandered" magisterial district judge's boundaries in the county to favor one candidate, who was the daughter of a girlfriend.

Clouse would not comment but referred calls to his attorney Arthur T. Donato.

"Everything that goes on before the Judicial Conduct Board, in a case where none of the allegations are going to be tried in the Court of Judicial Discipline, is confidential," Donato said yesterday. He added there was insufficient evidence for the complaints.

The Judicial Conduct Board, which investigates allegations of judicial misconduct, received about 600 cases each year, two-thirds of which involve Common Pleas judges. About 90 percent of the cases are dismissed. In 2006, only about four cases were referred to the court of Judicial Discipline for allegations of criminal activity, fixing cases and other serious matters. In a small number of cases, the board will find there is need for further comment but not formal charges.

"The letter of concern is meant to guide and counsel a judge to be alert to and cognizant of the code of ethics," said Joseph A. Massa Jr., chief counsel for the board, who could not address specifics of the case. "It is an educational guidance tool. Not a public sanction."

The board's 2006 annual report said Letters of Counsel are issued when there "is sufficient evidence of judicial misconduct, but the evidence suggests that it was an isolated incident." It calls the letters "a private reprimand."

A letter to the complainants also said it took into account Clouse's "blemish free" record of judicial service over 16 years.

This is not the first time Clouse has faced an investigation.

In 2004, a complaint by six Haverford Township residents - some of whom also filed the 2004 complaint with the Judicial Conduct Board - was filed with the state Attorney General's Office.

It alleged that Clouse listed Arlynne Cohen as his wife on the deed to his Haverford Township home to avoid paying real estate transfer taxes for 2002. Clouse, who refused to acknowledge whether he was married to Cohen, then paid the taxes after the state ordered him to do so.

The case was later dropped for insufficient evidence.