Tough-talking Judge Hughes is mum on transcript tweak, & her new employer says it is unfazed

Common Pleas Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes in 2000.
Common Pleas Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes in 2000. (TOM GRALISH / Staff photographer)
Posted: May 07, 2011

Renee Cardwell Hughes, one of Philadelphia's toughest-talking judges, isn't talking at all about the state Supreme Court's removal of her from a death-penalty appeal case for altering the courtroom transcript to conceal a disparaging remark she'd made about the defendant.

But her new employer says the controversy won't affect Hughes' move to become chief executive of the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter.

"She has the highest integrity, has impeccable credentials, and an outstanding reputation of fairness and being an advocate for justice for the people of Philadelphia," said Michael Coslov, chairman of Red Cross' board. "The Red Cross is not concerned at all about something that happened several years ago."

Hughes interviewed for the job on Feb. 18 and accepted the position in early April, the Red Cross said.

But Hughes' April 29 public announcement that she was leaving the Court of Common Pleas bench after 16 years came only one day after the Supreme Court's order that another judge must hear a convicted killer's appeal.

Hughes will not comment on the high-court order because she is still a judge, although she is using up court vacation time and will not return to the bench, Red Cross spokesman Dave Schrader said.

The controversy involves the case of Daniel Dougherty, 50, who was convicted in Hughes' courtroom in 2000 and sentenced to death for setting a 1985 fire that killed his two children. Dougherty is appealing on the grounds that his trial attorney was deficient.

Hughes, known for colorful language and fiery outbursts, called Dougherty "vile" during a February 2008 hearing. But when his attorney reviewed the hearing transcript, the insult was gone, according to a concurring statement from Justice Max Baer released with the order.

At a follow-up March 2008 hearing, Hughes, 55, admitted using the insult and explained herself.

"I told [the court reporter] to [remove] words that are less than judicial because I'm Southern and I say words like flipping and sucker . . ." according to Baer's statement.

When the attorney asked her to remove herself from the case because her actions had created an appearance of impropriety, Hughes "retorted by lambasting" the attorney, the statement said.

"[T]o direct privately a court reporter to alter an official transcript, the only vehicle through which appellate courts can ensure the due process of law, is reprehensible and should be condemned universally," wrote Baer, whose statement was joined by Justices Seamus McCaffery, Joan Orie Melvin and Thomas Saylor.

Her first day at the helm of the Red Cross is May 16.

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