Ethics board fines former Pa. judge for texts, sex with defendant's girlfriend
FILE – People walk by the Pennsylvania Judicial Center Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Pennsylvania’s judicial ethics board fined a since-retired district judge $5,000 this week for having sex with the girlfriend of a defendant, sending her salacious texts and letting his own lawyer practice before him without telling the other parties.
The Court of Judicial Discipline fined former Bradford County District Judge Michael G. Shaw and issued a severe reprimand, saying he had appeared to be genuinely contrite.
Shaw spent 24 years as district judge in Sayre, but did not run for re-election in 2017, as he was being investigated.
The court says Shaw, who was not charged criminally, appeared to be genuinely remorseful for his conduct. His lawyer in the proceedings, William Hebe, did not return a phone message Friday.
Shaw is a former police officer and is not a lawyer. Pennsylvania magisterial district judges, who are elected, do not have to be licensed lawyers. District judges set bail and conduct preliminary hearings for serious crimes, and handle minor offenses and lower-level civil matters.
Court findings say Shaw was supervising treatment court in 2014 when a repeat DUI defendant he knew enrolled in the court program. Shaw had worked for the man’s father years before.
The man’s girlfriend subsequently told Shaw on Facebook that she was breaking up with the man, leading to a series of messages that became sexual in nature.
In March 2014, the court found, Shaw and the woman had sex in a hotel in Binghamton, New York.
The woman and the treatment court defendant reconciled. The man eventually discovered text exchanges between the woman and Shaw on her phone.
Shaw summoned the man and woman into a jury room in May 2014 and apologized for his conduct, the court said.
Another participant in treatment court learned of the text exchanges and reported them to a probation officer.
The county’s president judge confronted Shaw, who admitted sexually explicit texting but falsely denied having sex with the woman. The president judge removed Shaw from treatment court.
“Treatment court participants learned of the sexting conduct and were upset that Respondent Shaw, who had repeatedly preached to them about honestly, had ‘hurt one of their own behind their backs,'” according to the Court of Judicial Discipline’s July 2018 opinion in the case.
Shaw told investigators he also engaged in sexual text exchanges with other women, and there was evidence he also sent and received text messages with parties about cases before him.
The July 2018 opinion also said attorney Rinaldo DePaola, who had represented Shaw earlier in the disciplinary investigation, filed dozens of cases with Shaw’s court, but the other parties and their lawyers were not told that he also worked for Shaw.
Sometime around the start of 2017, DePaola notified Shaw that he was recusing himself from any matters before him. In February 2017, Shaw asked the court administrator to transfer those matters to other judges.
DePaola did not return a message seeking comment.