It is planned that some well-known retired lawyers will return to the Erie County Courthouse to temporarily fill a position created with the May 3 resignation of Erie County Judge Stephanie Domitrovich.
Erie County President Judge Joseph M. Walsh III said he has received state approval to bring in retired or senior judges and said he expects Shad Connelly, William R. Cunningham and Ernest J. DiSantis Jr.
Connelly, 77, and DiSantis, 73, resigned from the Erie County bank in 2015. Cunningham, 65, retired in 2019.
Domitrovich, 68, was first elected in 1989, has been a 32-year judge and the longest-serving judge on the nine-seat Erie County Court of Common Pleas. She is stepping down from her $197,119-year job and has seven years left in her current 10-year term and seven years until she turns 75, the mandatory retirement age for Pennsylvania elected judges.
The seat that Domitrovich is vacating will not be up for election until 2023, the year of the next municipal election, Walsh said. Lead judges fill the seat until a judge is elected or the governor nominates someone to fill the seat prior to the election.
Domitrovich, of Millcreek Township, has received certification from the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts to serve as a senior judge after her retirement, an AOPC spokeswoman said. The spokeswoman also said the deployment of senior judges in Erie County will begin in May.
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Domitrovich is not on Walsh’s list to serve as a senior judge to temporarily fill the position she vacates upon her retirement, although she could serve as a senior judge elsewhere.
Domitrovich did not respond to a request for comment. She submitted her retirement letter on February 7 to Gov. Tom Wolf, who retired on May 3, but she never publicly announced her resignation. The Erie Times-News reported her resignation a week ago after requesting and receiving Domitrovich’s letter from the governor’s office.
Domitrovich gave no reason for her resignation in her letter, but said she was retiring as an “elect state judge”. Senior judges, which now include Domitrovich, are not elected but assigned to a court.
Retired judges in Pennsylvania can receive their state pension and $611 a day in compensation for working as a senior judge. They can also work limited and get paid as a senior judge, although they can also work without pay, as Connelly has done for a time since retiring in 2015.
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Domitrovich made local history as the first woman elected to the Erie County Court of Common Pleas. She has handled a number of high-profile murder and other cases over the course of her career, but late in her tenure she was the target of allegations regarding ethics and her behavior on the bench.
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In 2014, the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board filed a disciplinary complaint against her, alleging that she bullied litigants, violated their rights, and misled investigators about the board. She disputed the claims, which were heard in the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline.
The Court of Judicial Discipline unanimously dismissed the disciplinary complaint against Domitrovich in August 2016. The court found that she was adhering to the new Judicial Diversion Program, designed to help legal professionals improve their behavior on the bench.
Three years later, then-Erie County Judge John J. Trucilla issued an administrative order regarding Domitrovich. Trucilla issued the order in December 2019 after finding that Domitrovich was processing legal filings submitted by her son, an attorney, on behalf of his employer, the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, according to court filings. The petitions concerned the appointment or termination of employment of private police officers patrolling the LECOM campus.
Trucilla’s order included bans on judges dealing with matters involving family members. Trucilla acted after a meeting with Domitrovich failed to allay his concerns, court records show.
Domitrovich, her son, and LECOM appealed the order, claiming it was unfounded. The state Supreme Court upheld the order in a unanimous decision in August. The court said the order was not contestable because of its administrative nature and other factors.
Contact Ed Palattella at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNpalatella.