Judge blames outbursts in courtroom on brain injury

Investigations

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM)- Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas Judge Thomas Placey has admitted to charges filed against him by the Judicial Conduct Board, blaming an alleged brain injury.

Last month the Judicial Conduct Board filed a complaint accusing Judge Placey of violating due process rights and having screaming outbursts in the courtroom.

In a response filed with the Court of Judicial Discipline, Placey admitted to the charges and claims he he recognized a change in his impulsive behavioral control in late 2018.

According to the court paperwork, in 2017 Judge Placey received notices from the NCAA
of the potential for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), believed to be linked to concussions he had suffered playing college sports. Placey says he shared this information with his physician.

According to the Mayo Clinic, CTE is brain degeneration likely caused by repeated head traumas which can cause difficulties with thinking and emotions. CTE can only be diagnosed during an autopsy.

“It really isn’t a defense. It is a please have pity on me,” said Michael Dimino.

Dimino is a professor of law at Widener University. He read Placey’s response to the charges filed by the Board of Judicial Conduct.

“If he can’t control his emotions or if he is otherwise incapacitated it doesn’t really matter why or whether it is his fault. We can all feel sorry for him, if it’s true that concussions have caused his problem, but that doesn’t mean that the county has to tolerate him as a judge if he is unable to perform the duties of the job,” said Dimino.

According to court documents, Placey sought treatment in 2019 for his impulsive behavioral control, which he says “aids him in reducing frustration and containing emotional reactions” and he has developed the additional skills necessary to “de-escalate internally, without litigants’ knowledge”.

“I have heard from one litigant already that he is shaking when he is trying to control himself from having another one of these outbursts. While he is doing that it would be very difficult for him to pay attention to what is going on, to devote his full mental energy to understanding the parties arguments and deciding cases properly. So even if he is able to restrain himself from having an outburst I would be very skeptical that he is doing his job properly,” said Dimino

The response claims Placey is an enrolled member of the NCAA Concussion Management Medical Monitoring Program.

Judge Placey’s attorney, Heidi Eakin, did not respond to a request for comment.

Placey’s case will be heard by the Court of Judicial Discipline.

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