Jaffe ‘sorry in his heart’; several eyed as replacement
Judge Joseph Jaffe apologized Tuesday for extorting money from a lawyer whose firm had asbestos litigation pending before him.
“I am sorry in my heart,” said Jaffe, 53, of Upper St. Clair, during a brief telephone interview Tuesday, a day after he pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of extortion.
Jaffe faces a prison sentence, as well as the loss of his judicial post, his law license and pension. He is scheduled to be sentenced May 16.
Meanwhile, the state Senate yesterday filled three vacant seats on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas when it unanimously approved gubernatorial nominees David Wecht, the county’s register of wills; Christine Ward; and Jill Rangos. Now, speculation centers on potential candidates to replace Jaffe on the Allegheny County bench.
State Sen. Jay Costa Jr., the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he suspects a round of jockeying will occur among candidates for Jaffe’s seat.
Costa said he thinks the early favorites are Paul Zavarella, a lawyer and the son of former Orphans’ Court Administrative Judge Paul Zavarella; Pittsburgh Councilman Alan Hertzberg; and City Solicitor Jacqueline Morrow.
Costa said he’s also heard former Allegheny County Commissioner Mike Dawida and Chuck Knoll, the son of Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll, mentioned as potential candidates for Jaffe’s judicial seat.
Costa said he’s not sure whether the Senate will have time to confirm another judicial nominee before the fall election. An appointment would be forwarded to the Senate by Gov. Ed Rendell. Senate confirmation requires a two-thirds majority vote.
Jaffe still is a judge even though the Court of Judicial Discipline suspended him last month and stripped him of his judicial salary of $121,225 a year. The Judicial Conduct Board, which investigates and prosecutes allegations of judicial misconduct, is conducting the investigation that will lead to Jaffe’s removal from the bench.
Paul Killion, chief disciplinary counsel of the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, said once Jaffe is sentenced, his office will initiate proceedings to disbar the judge.
Jaffe pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court to one count of extortion for pressuring lawyer Joel Persky for $13,000. Persky helped federal authorities build a case against Jaffe.
Jaffe also accepted responsibility for two additional counts of extortion. He was accused of accepting a $12,500 check from attorney Edwin Beachler III and then pressuring Beachler for a job.