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DN Editorial: Take the money and stroll

Reports throughout Election Day that voter turnout was not anemic but actually rather healthy is gratifying.

Philadelphia Judge Seamus McCaffery. PHOTO BY ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ
Philadelphia Judge Seamus McCaffery. PHOTO BY ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZRead moreDN

REPORTS throughout Election Day that voter turnout was not anemic but actually rather healthy is gratifying.

The turnout is especially encouraging given recent outrages related to elected officials in Pennsylvania. Through two separate deals - for disgraced Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery and disgraced state Sen. LeAnna Washington - both will be able to retain their pensions. One response to such news would be to skip voting out of disgust, but reminding public officials that their constituents take voting seriously is the better option.

Last week, McCaffery resigned - his official word is "retired" - after hundreds of pornographic emails that he sent to officials in the Attorney General's Office were discovered and exposed by Attorney General Kathleen Kane; it was part of a wider email porn scandal that ended employment for at least five officials.

As part of McCaffery's deal, the Judicial Conduct Board will halt its investigations and he will receive his pension.

Washington also last week pleaded guilty to felony conflict of interest for ordering her staff to work on her political campaigns and fundraisers, but prosecutors dropped a charge of felony theft, a charge that would have led to the loss of her pension. With the reduced charge, she gets to "retire" in comfort, with a pension. That should make her three-month home confinement and 57 weeks of probation less onerous, and will probably help her repay $200,000 in restitution.

Pardon us while we have a moment of nausea over this pension outrage.

In Pennsylvania, Act 140, also known as the Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act, outlines certain crimes that lead to revocation of pension. Between 2010 and 2013, more than 50 pensions were forfeited - a good barometer of the state of our state, at least when it comes to our crime-committing officials. (The state's judicial code has additional provisions for judges that don't necessarily require a crime to be committed.)

We're glad for the long list of crimes - and grateful we're not one of at least 20 states that have no forfeiture laws - but think it's worth considering expanding it. As far as we can tell, you can kill someone and still get your state pension - as long as you don't use state equipment to do the deed. For those whose pensions are forfeited - state Sen. Vince Fumo and state Rep. John Perzel are two recent examples - the contributions that they made are returned, minus interest and after any fines or restitution payments are deducted. That seems a far fairer deal for badly behaving public officials who commit any crimes against taxpayers, not just the ones sanctioned in Act 140.

It's unclear if McCaffery's chapter is indeed closed, since pressure is mounting for the release of all emails that were sent by the chief justices and the Attorney General's Office. Attorney General Kane discovered at least 4,000 emails between justices of the court and prosecutors. Now, a group that includes attorney groups and state Sen. Daylin Leach want the disclosure of all emails to ensure that they don't constitute improper ex parte communication.

(Similar requests for the release of emails have been initiated by newspapers, including the Daily News.)

The election of Tom Wolf as governor begins a new chapter in Pennsylvania leadership. The change should not be limited to the governor's office; we should demand better behavior from everyone we have put in office.

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