Judge hit for removing transcript remarks

Posted: May 06, 2011

A Philadelphia judge deleted disparaging comments that she made about a defendant in court from the official transcript of the man's death-penalty appeal, an alteration that 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 that 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 that 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 said. The organization is also not commenting, he said.

A message left on an answering machine in her chambers yesterday was not returned. Schrader said that the judge is on vacation.

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

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