LCB judges' work habits are faulted

A report found the seven often spent many hours on nonwork pursuits.

Posted: June 18, 2012

HARRISBURG - Leisurely swims and long lunches. Shopping outings and afternoons spent with the kids. A jaunt to the Bahamas.

That is how the state Liquor Control Board's seven administrative law judges - little-known jurists who hear liquor-code violation cases - are described spending their workdays when they thought no one was looking.

As it turns out, someone was.

During roughly three months in 2010, the judges' work habits were watched by agents of the state Inspector General's Office, which prepared a pointed report.

The 29-page report, a copy of which The Inquirer has obtained, was delivered to the Corbett administration and the LCB last July but was not made public.

And though investigators recommended "appropriate disciplinary action" against the judges, it appears little action was taken.

One of the judges, Felix Thau, reached for comment at his home Friday, said: "98 percent of [the report] was unfounded."

"Nobody got into any trouble," said Thau, who works in the judges' Harrisburg office, "because there was nothing there. End of story."

The report comes to light at a time when the LCB's future is the subject of fierce debate in the legislature, where Republicans have revived proposals to privatize the 79-year-old agency.

Investigators found that LCB judges rarely stuck to normal workdays, often arriving hours late, leaving the office for hours at a time without taking appropriate leave, and going home early, according to the report.

Sometimes, the report said, they didn't show up at all.

In all, six LCB administrative law judges are overseen by a chief judge. All are appointed by the governor and work in one of three offices: Plymouth Meeting, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh. Their salaries range from $93,595 to $116,675, and they are considered an independent office within the LCB.

The agency's spokeswoman, Stacey Witalec, said the inspector general's look at the judges' work was first requested in 2010 under Gov. Ed Rendell's administration by the LCB and other officials. She did not say what triggered the request.

The report was completed by Gov. Corbett's appointee to the inspector general's post, former federal prosecutor Kenya Mann Faulkner, and was delivered to administration officials last summer.

A representative for Faulkner could not be reached for comment.

According to interviews with several judges named in the report, the document resulted in reprimands for for the chief judge and several others; the rest received the equivalent of a letter in their personnel files.

Kevin Harley, Corbett's spokesman, said Friday in an e-mail that the administration "took appropriate disciplinary action." He declined to go into detail.

Harley said Corbett had also ordered the judges to be directly supervised by the governor's office. The report said officials needed to "alleviate any confusion" about whether the judges were subject to LCB and state rules.

Faulkner's report painted an overall picture of the judges working in an environment where rules were flexible and not always enforced. Three judges spoke of the agency's "culture" when questioned by investigators about the rules.

Among the findings:

The chief administrative law judge, Eileen S. Maunus, was surveilled between July and October 2010 on 12 separate days by agents from the inspector general's office. During that time, she was seen at a supermarket, farmers' market, post office, and at home with her children.

In all, Maunus, who works in Harrisburg, was absent from the office for almost 19 hours during those 12 days, and formally put in for leave for only one of those hours, according to the report.

Maunus could not be reached Friday for comment.

She told investigators she sometimes worked more and sometimes less than the 371/2 hours required for her post. She said she did some work at home and sometimes went to the office in the evening.

The report said she also told investigators that as chief judge, she allowed the six judges she oversaw to have flexible hours, saying it was not her philosophy "to rein people in."

Maunus "said that she does not want disgruntled employees and does not want to replace staff," the report said. [She] said that she has people who produce and are happy."

The report, noting that some of the judges didn't always report outside employment or roles in other organizations on their annual ethics disclosures, recommended clarifying reporting requirements, work rules and hours. It also suggested training regarding leave time and attendance. Thau, an LCB administrative law judge since 1988, was followed by inspector general's agents for 13 days between July and October 2010.

During that time, according to the report, he spent at least 16 hours on nonwork activities, including taking two- to 31/2-hour lunch breaks to swim at a gym. He was also seen going to a supermarket, a Tire Mart, and other stores.

Thau also took a weeklong summer vacation in the Bahamas but did not put in for vacation time until after investigators confronted him about it months later.

In a telephone interview Friday, Thau would not discuss specific allegations in the report. Interviewed by investigators, he said he "flexes" his work hours for swimming, as well as for medical appointments, and often worked evenings and came in during off-hours.

Asked by investigators about his Bahamas trip, Thau, according to the report, replied: "Do you think I would be that stupid to not put in a friggin' week off?" He was also quoted as saying he was "thoroughly shocked" that he had not put in for vacation leave. He did so after agents questioned him about it.

Administrative Law Judge David L. Shenkle, who works in the Plymouth Meeting office, said Friday in an interview that he had been a lawyer since 1975, and that "I have never met a lawyer employed by government or the private sector that punched the clock at a particular time.

"Because that is not how it works," he said. "Your mind is always on the job - and who knows when the great ideas come?"

Shenkle said he had not seen the report, which described him as arriving at work anywhere from 21/2 to more than 31/2 hours late and spending at least 14 hours in seven workdays doing nonwork activities, such as going to the YMCA.

He said he learned of the investigation when agents hauled him in. He said he had been trailed even in the mornings when he walked his dog.

Shenkle said he works hard for the LCB and does his job well.

"Whatever may have been uncovered that [we] weren't in the office at a specific time, it is nothing compared to the waste of taxpayer resources that occurred by tailing these people for multiple days," Shenkle said. "No one ever said there was a problem here."


Pa. Liquor Control Board Judges

HARRISBURG OFFICE

Eileen S. Maunus (chief judge), $116,675 annual salary, appointed 1996.

Felix Thau, $106,876, appointed 1988.

Daniel T. Flaherty Jr., $106,876, appointed 1987.

PITTSBURGH OFFICE

Roderick Frisk, $106,876, appointed 1987.

Robert F. Skwaryk, $106,876, appointed 1988.

PLYMOUTH MEETING OFFICE

David L. Shenkle, $93,595, appointed 1994.

Tania E. Wright, $106,876, appointed 1988.


Contact Angela Couloumbis

at 717-787-5934, acouloumbis@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @AngelasInk.

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