CARLISLE, Pa. (WHTM) – ABC27 has confirmed that several people have been interviewed by the Judicial Conduct Board regarding Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas Judge Thomas Placey.
In question is Placey’s conduct in the courtroom.
There have been multiple reports of Placey losing his temper and screaming in the courtroom. An ABC27 investigation found this isn’t the first time his conduct has been questioned.
“There are no words to describe the way he screamed at me. It is like a madman going totally insane,” Tony Samento said.
According to court transcripts from October 2017, Samento was testifying in Placey’s courtroom during a hearing related to his marital settlement agreement.
“I never raised my voice. I am simply answering the questions my attorney is asking,” Samento said.
Samento says Placey’s mood suddenly changed.
“I look up and he’s literally coming over the bench, just screaming at the top of his lungs,” Samento said. “He says, ‘Get him out of here. Sit down’. I don’t know what he means, I am already sitting down. Then, he says he’s going to ‘tear me up on the stand’ and I am thinking I’m going to have to fight this judge, this judge is going to attack me. My heart is literally pounding through my chest.”
Excerpt from Court Transcript:
Placey: And I don’t —
Samento: I’m sure there’s a record of this.
Samento: I’m sorry.
Placey: Sit down now. Down. Out of that seat.
Samento: I’m sorry.
Placey: Move it like you have got a purpose.
Samento: I’m sorry, Your Honor.
Placey: I’ll tell you when I’m coming back. It’s not going to be today. You get your client under control or I am going to tear him up on the stand. Do you understand me?
Samento’s Counsel: I’m not sure, Your Honor, but I’ll try to.
Placey: He talks over me one more time, I am going to rule summarily against him. Do you understand?
Samento’s Counsel: Yes, your Honor.
Placey: Get him out of here. I want to see both of you in chambers.
*** The court then proceeded to conduct an in-chambers conference that was not transcribed ***
Placey never rescheduled the hearing and later ruled against Samento.
“I testified for seven minutes. I never received my due process. I never had my day in court,” Samento said.
Samento appealed Placey’s decision to the state Superior Court, which agreed, saying Samento’s “due process rights were violated.” Placey’s judgment in favor of the wife was vacated and the case was to be remanded for a new hearing before a different judge.
In its opinion, Superior Court said Placey’s actions were “intemperate and raise an appearance of bias.”
The day after Superior Court issued its opinion on the Samento case, Placey threw Chief Deputy District Attorney Michelle Sibert out of his courtroom during a sentencing hearing.
Excerpt from Court Transcripts:
Sibert: at the time of the plea I informed —
Placey: Yes. I’m saying it is different than what is in the file I read over —
Sibert: I informed the Court —
Placey: Why do you talk over me? Step out of her. Get out. Take him back down to the cell. I will deal with him when I am ready. You, out.
Sibert: Your Honor —
Placey: Out. Now. Do you not listen? What is the problem with your hearing today? You, out. Out. Hand that File to somebody else.
(the judge left the courtroom.)
(the judge reentered the courtroom.)
Placey: Haul her out. She is the first one out of this courtroom. I walk back in here and she is still here. Get her out. Move it, sheriff.
Sibert: I’m sorry, Your Honor.
Placey: Move it. Quit talking. Lord have mercy. You show me enough disrespect all freakin day long. What is your problem? Get out of here. She does not walk back in this courtroom, sheriff.
(a recess was taken.)
Multiple sources tell ABC27 that Placey was screaming that day.
“My concern is how many people has he literally squashed because he can. He has the authority and the power and who’s going to challenge him?” Samento said. “He is making decisions that are affecting people’s lives, destroying people’s lives.”
One of the key pieces of evidence in Samento’s appeal to the Superior Court was the audio recording of the hearing.
“There is no way that someone can listen to that and not think this individual has a serious anger issue. The audio, you have to hear it,” Samento said.
ABC27 asked the Cumberland County court administrator for the audio from Samento’s case and the sentencing hearing when Sibert was asked to leave the courtroom. We were informed the audio from Samento’s case was sealed by a judge and the audio from the sentencing is not public record.
ABC27 is exploring legal options to obtain the audio.
Placey did not return multiple calls for comment.
In a written reply to the Superior Court, Placey said he was not screaming at Samento. He wrote, “Anyone who has been involved in organized sports would easily recognize the difference between projecting one’s voice through the use of the diaphragm to provide loud, firm command directions, versus screaming. The commands to [Samento] were not laced with profanity nor were any derogatory comments made. No comment was made that suggests hostility or bias. A judge has no friends to reward, no enemies to punish, only justice to be served.”
ABC27 reached out the Judicial Conduct Board which said it cannot comment due to confidentiality.