Our opinion: A second income

When one thinks of a Supreme Court, whether it sits in Washington or in Harrisburg, the images conjured are almost monk-like: flowing black robes, furrowed brows deep in thought over the most difficult matters of jurisprudence, burdened by the weight of the scales of justice, one of the foundations of our society, the final arbiters whose work is largely cloistered.

Recent news from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has tended to alter that image, given the conviction of one supreme court justice for corruption.

Now comes the matter of Justice Searmus McCaffery and his wife, Lise Rapaport, who also happens to be the chief judicial assistant at a state salary of $75,395. McCaffery makes a tad over $186,000. We suppose those are reasonable salaries, given the stature of the office and all of that brow furrowing.

But, apparently it’s not enough for Rapaport, who, according to an investigation by the Philadelphia Inquirer, has been doing quite nicely on the side by providing referrals to legal firms which pay her fees for the effort – pretty substantial fees.

Justice McCaffery has not disclosed and is not required to disclose his wife’s referral fees, but a court filing recently revealed that one of 19 she has received in the last 10 years was $821,000.

According to the Inquirer, all of the firms involved and all of the lawyers in them have made contributions to McCaffery’s campaign and some have argued cases before him.

Of course, the justices see nothing wrong with this practice. Chief Justice Ronald Castille has said the majority of the seven-member court view the acceptance of referral fees as a form of practicing law. In some circles, that’s translated as “It’s just bidness.”

Just as all of this business comes to light, the high court has barred state appellate court staff members from performing private legal work for compensation.

How now will the chief judicial assistant add to the household cookie jar?