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Joint stipulation indicates Placey's judicial discipline case will not go to trial
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Cumberland County

Joint stipulation indicates Placey's judicial discipline case will not go to trial

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A joint stipulation in lieu of a trial has been agreed upon in the disciplinary case of Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas Judge Thomas Placey, meaning that live testimony will not happen before the state’s Court of Judicial Discipline renders a decision regarding Placey’s alleged aggressive behavior.

The filing, entered Monday, contains a stipulation of facts agreed upon by both Placey and the state’s Judicial Conduct Board, which will preclude testimony before the court.

Both parties will have the opportunity to file briefs arguing as to why or why not the agreed-upon facts constitute the violations alleged, according to conduct board attorney Richard Long, prior to the court rendering a decision.

Monday’s stipulation indicates that Placey is not challenging the basic framework of the case — the stipulation includes the conduct board’s factual allegations in all six of the cases that Placey is alleged to have mishandled.

The Judicial Conduct Board has charged that the incidents represent a pattern of violating the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct. Under Pennsylvania law, the Court of Judicial Discipline has the power to hear the case and issue sanctions, if warranted, which can include fines, suspensions or removal from the bench.

It is unclear if a decision from the court will arrive in time to make a material difference; Placey is not seeking a retention vote in the 2021 election, and will thus be replaced for 2022 by one of the two candidates running for his seat.

Those primary candidates are current Magisterial District Judge Kathy Silcox and county First Assistant District Attorney Michelle Sibert — the latter of whom could have been called to testify against Placey had the matter gone to trial.

Allegations

The conduct board’s allegations, initially filed in June 2020, detail instances in which Placey’s explosive temper and seemingly arbitrary rage about perceived slights in the courtroom allegedly violated state statutes regarding judicial decorum and, in one instance, the right for parties to be heard.

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In July, Placey filed a brief claiming that his erratic behavior is the result of chronic head injuries from his college sports career, and that he is seeking treatment.

One of the instances cited by the conduct board was an incident in January 2019 in which Placey began shouting at Sibert and ordered law enforcement to remove her from the courtroom after a misunderstanding about restitution documents.

The joint stipulation filed Monday states that Placey admitted his demeanor was “apoplectic” in the Sibert incident. The conduct board’s pre-trial memorandum listed Sibert as a possible witness if the case were to proceed to trial.

Additionally, in January 2019, the Pennsylvania Superior Court issued a critical opinion of Placey, reversing his decision in the marital settlement case of Tony Samento.

The Superior Court’s opinion cited questionable behavior and jurisprudence by Placey during the case, in which Placey began screaming and physically looming over Samento during his testimony, an event triggered by a misunderstanding about a reference to a salacious video of Samento’s ex-wife, according to the hearing transcript.

Placey abruptly ended the hearing and inexplicably did not schedule further testimony before rendering a decision that contained dubious legal reasoning, the Superior Court found.

In both the Sibert and Samento episodes, court transcripts indicate that Placey became enraged after believing that the other party had cut him off during conversation. Samento told the conduct board, as well as this newspaper, that he was afraid Placey was going to physically attack him, based on the judge’s movement.

Monday’s stipulation indicates this was not an isolated occurrence — in another case, according to the document, attorney Joanne Clough “thought that the judge was going to hit the testifying witness.”

The stipulation also outlines two further cases in which Placey’s anger derailed hearings, as well as a situation in which Placey became enraged at an attorney for not covering a case with which he was unfamiliar.

In the response brief filed last year, Placey’s attorney wrote that Placey had noticed “temperament changes” in his behavior that are believed to be linked to concussions he suffered when he was younger.

Placey has sought treatment for his anger management and is enrolled in a monitoring program run by the National College Athletic Association, his attorney wrote. Johns Hopkins athletic records show a Tom Placey having played football for the Blue Jays in 1981 and 1982, according to the Hopkins athletic office.

Email Zack at zhoopes@cumberlink.com.

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