The Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline found Thursday that a Common Pleas Court judge caught in an FBI probe of the Philadelphia court system unethically intervened in a tax case involving her son.
The court unanimously concluded that Angeles Roca, 61, a Democrat who has been a judge since 2008, improperly contacted another judge in the tax dispute, in which her son owed about $5,500 in taxes and fines related to his barbershop. She is the fourth city judge to be found guilty civilly or criminally as a result of the FBI's investigation.
Roca called Municipal Court Judge Joseph C. Waters Jr., who then reached out to a colleague on Municipal Court, Dawn Segal, who then reversed herself to issue a procedural ruling favorable to the son.
Unbeknownst to the three judges, the FBI was listening in on the phone calls.
When the Judicial Conduct Board, which investigates judicial misconduct, first began looking into the Roca allegation, she acknowledged that she had talked with Waters, but said she had merely asked him legal advice on her son's behalf, the Court of Judicial Discipline said in its ruling Thursday.
After the FBI played her its tapes, Roca changed her story, admitting her improper discussions with Waters. Those discussions violated the state judicial code of ethics for outside judges to meddle in cases.
Roca's son, Ian C. Rexach, was fined $5,000 after he failed to show up for a hearing on about $500 in unpaid business privilege taxes. After Waters got involved, Segal agreed that the courts would reconsider the debt. Along with running a barbershop in North Philadelphia, Rexach worked as his mother's tipstaff, or judicial assistant.
Roca's lawyer, Samuel C. Stretton, on Thursday said he would urge the Court of Judicial Discipline to suspend her for a period of months, but not remove her from the bench.
He said that other judges had been suspended, not ousted, for similar misconduct and that she deserved leniency in part because the case amounted to a "mother trying to help her son."
Roca has been suspended without pay while her case was pending.
In all, four judges were picked up on FBI wiretaps during the 2011 and 2012 investigation.
Two - Waters and Municipal Court Judge Joseph O'Neill - were indicted on federal charges. Both have pleaded guilty. Water was sentenced to two years in prison and O'Neill to six moths of house arrest. Both are now off the bench.
Segal and Roca face only civil ethics complaints. The judicial court is to hold hearings Nov. 21 on how to punish them.