Kinky O'kicki Testimony In The Cambria County Case Has Been Lively, But There's A Larger Lesson

Posted: December 04, 1989

During the trial of Cambria County Judge Joseph F. O'Kicki on various charges of misconduct, it's been fascinating to learn of the dress code the judge supposedly followed in his chambers. (He's said to have tried to dictate a letter once in his jockey shorts, and even less on another occasion.) But the trial has taught us more about the need to better police Pennsylvania's judges whether they keep their robes on or not. And let it be noted that Judge O'Kicki's problems apparently were much more with his judicial attitudes than his attire.

The testimony has shown that lawyers who suspect wrongdoing on the part of a judge feel there's little point in reporting such behavior to the state Supreme Court or the state's Judicial Inquiry and Review Board. Said one lawyer who asserted that Judge O'Kicki asked him for a kickback, reporting such an allegation to the Supreme Court was useless. "That and 35 cents would get me a cup of coffee," he said. As for the review board, the attorney said, ''Most lawyers feel it's a waste of time."

This isn't the first time such criticism has been aired - just one of the most graphic examples of the need to change the way the state's system of disciplining judges operates. It's a system that is controlled by judges, operates in secrecy and often produces few results.

It's for that reason that committees in both the Pennsylvania House and Senate have approved crucial legislation to reform the review board. The legislation would replace the board with a system that would be more independent and open in its deliberations. The measure has broad support and should be acted upon now because of the climate in favor of cleaning up the state's judiciary.

Like the pending legislation that would change the state's system of electing judges to its statewide appellate courts, the review board measure would require eventual approval by the voters. Now's the time - perhaps with the specter of the allegations against Judge O'Kicki fresh in the mind - to get that process under way.

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