Man says Cumberland County judge ‘out of control’

Investigators

ENOLA, Pa. (WHTM) – Retired and disabled veteran Robert Ridgway says he went before Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas Judge Thomas Placey for a divorce proceeding and believes his due process rights were violated.

“They were selling all of my properties without a hearing. I go from owning nine properties to nothing. In America? He’s out of control and nobody is controlling him at this point,” Ridgway said.

Ridgeway reached out after seeing an ABC27 investigation confirm that several people had spoken to the Judicial Conduct Board regarding Placey’s conduct in the courtroom. He said Placey yelled at him and his attorney in the courtroom.

“He said, ‘I’m going settle your whole divorce right here, right now’ and leaned over,” Ridgway said. “He put my attorney nearly in tears. He told her to go back to law school, she had no business being a lawyer.”

The Pennsylvania Code of Judicial Conduct states judges are required to perform the duties of their office impartially and diligently.

“Judges don’t need to raise their voice,” said Michael Dimino, a Widener University Commonwealth Law School professor. “Judges already have authority by virtue of their position. They are placed at the head of the courtroom. They are raised above the level of other people precisely to convey an air of authority. They don’t need to raise their voices to convey even more authority, and the risk is that a judge who exercises power in that kind of respect will be seen less as impartially administering the law than as some kind of bully, and it is important for the judicial system not to be seen that way.”

The Judicial Conduct Board of Pennsylvania was created in 1993 and is responsible for investigating allegations of judicial misconduct. “The Judicial Conduct Board ensures that judges maintain their ethical requirements,” Dimino says.

The board received 789 complaints in 2018, mostly regarding legal issues, followed by abuse of discretion/office/power and lastly, demeanor.

Complaints are confidential, as are the anteceding actions. Only when sanctions are imposed by the Court of Judicial Discipline is the judge’s name made public.

“I don’t think that it’s appropriate for the general public to be made aware [of every] complaint that has been filed against the judge, just because it’s so easy to file one that doesn’t have any merit at all. I think that the balance the Judicial Conduct Board strikes is about right,” Dimino said.

Ridgway filed a complaint against Placey with the Judicial Conduct Board, citing several occasions where Placey apparently made decisions on his case without hearings.

Nothing could stop the sale of his properties; Ridgway says a friend bought the home he was living in so he could buy it back.

“I had this property paid for 26 years. Now I’m 55 years old and I’m getting a mortgage for 30 years that I will be re-paying when I’m 85. Judge Placey does what Judge Placey wants to do,” Ridgway says.

Legal action is currently being pursued by ABC27 to unseal the audio of a court proceeding where Placey reportedly shouted. The file previously was used as evidence in an appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.

After hearing it, the Superior Court issued an opinion stating Placey’s actions were “intemperate and raise an appearance of bias.”

Placey could not be reached for comment regarding this story.

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