Pennsylvania: Court: Judge altered transcript; Court reporter removed 'less than judicial' remarks

By Maryclaire Dale

Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- A Philadelphia judge deleted disparaging comments she made about a defendant in court from the official transcript of the man's death-penalty appeal, an alteration the state Supreme Court called "reprehensible" as it removed her from the case.

Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes admits that she ordered a court reporter to delete what she calls "non-judicial" remarks, including calling the defendant "vile," the high court ruling said.

The deletion came to light when lawyers seeking to quote her comments in their appeal noticed that they were missing from the transcript. The lawyers raised the issue at a later hearing before Cardwell Hughes.

"I told (the court reporter) to (remove) words that are less than judicial because I'm Southern and I say words like flipping or sucker ... ," the justices quoted Cardwell Hughes as saying during the hearing in their ruling last week.

The high court also faulted her for lambasting defense lawyers who asked her to step down from the case at a 2008 post-conviction hearing.

Cardwell Hughes refused, saying she could separate her "personal opinion of a person who toasted a house with children in it" from the evidence.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Max Baer noted that Cardwell Hughes has repeatedly grilled lawyers who ask that she recuse herself because of potential conflicts.

"Another similar incident should result in disciplinary proceedings against her," Baer wrote.

That point is now moot as the 55-year-old judge is leaving the bench after 15 years to become chief executive officer of the Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter of the American Red Cross.

She is not commenting on the ruling because she remains a sitting judge until her May 16 start, Red Cross spokesman Dave Schrader told The Associated Press. The organization is also not commenting, he said.

A message left on an answering machine in her chambers last week was not returned. According to Schrader, the judge is on vacation.

Over the past few years, Cardwell Hughes supervised grand jury investigations into a deadly abortion clinic and a priest sexual abuse case, and she presided over two murder trials involving three slain police officers.

The Supreme Court issued its ruling April 28 in the death-penalty appeal of Daniel Daugherty.

Daugherty was convicted in her courtroom in 2000 of killing his two children in a 1985 arson. His second wife, during a divorce and custody dispute, said he had confessed to the crime. The mother of the children supports his innocence claims.

On appeal, his lawyers argue that his trial lawyer was ineffective, and that he was convicted based on junk science.

At a post-conviction hearing in March 2008, Cardwell-Hughes told the defense it was her job "to defend the decision of my jury," according to Supreme Court Justice Thomas G. Saylor's concurring opinion.

Saylor said he believes Daugherty at least deserves a hearing on his lawyer's effectiveness.

Daugherty's appellate lawyers did not immediately return calls for comment.

Published: Thu, May 12, 2011