Former state Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery's resignation last fall answered the most immediate threat to the credibility of the judiciary. But a closer look at the legal fees that helped precipitate his downfall underscores how much the court overlooked in its haste to expel the judge.

Besides distributing pornographic e-mails and allegedly intervening in a traffic case, McCaffery drew scrutiny for referral fees that law firms paid to his wife, Lise Rapaport, who was also his top aide. Rapaport's relationship with firms whose lawyers appeared before her husband raised ethical questions, and they have become more serious now that the judge appears to have been directly involved.

As The Inquirer's Craig R. McCoy reports today, law firm documents and plaintiffs' recollections show McCaffery personally referred a case and followed up even though fees were paid to his wife. That erases the thin boundary that once seemed to separate the fees from the judge. A lawyer for the couple once asserted that the fees reflected Rapaport's reputation and charisma, excoriating The Inquirer as suggesting that "Ms. Rapaport's referrals are somehow 'a front' for her husband." And yet a memo obtained by The Inquirer has a lawyer explaining: "although this was referred to me by Seamus [McCaffery] . . . Seamus's wife Lise Rapaport is an attorney and she gets the referral fee on it."

The deal that secured McCaffery's resignation ended a disciplinary investigation and saved his $134,000-a-year pension. The Inquirer's report suggests that was premature. McCaffery's hand in the referrals may have put him at odds with rules prohibiting judges from practicing law and requiring recusal when their impartiality is in question. A thorough investigation - by local or state prosecutors if not the judiciary - is in order.

Moreover, while the high court deserves credit for improving the state's flimsy judicial code in the wake of the McCaffery revelations, it has work to do on the rules governing lawyers. In particular, their free-for-all approach to referral fees is out of step with national standards. Prohibiting such payments would make Pennsylvania a leader on legal ethics instead of a laggard.