Bounced from the bench

Posted: August 08, 2013

THOMAS NOCELLA, a politically well-connected Philadelphia attorney, spent a decade trying to be elected as a judge.

He finally made it in 2011.

But the state Judicial Conduct Board has knocked Nocella permanently from the bench after finding that he had misled the Philadelphia Bar Association while seeking that group's recommendation in the 2011 election.

The board, in a Monday order made public yesterday, said Nocella is ineligible to ever serve again as a judge in Pennsylvania.

Sam Stretton, Nocella's attorney, said yesterday that he plans to appeal the order to the state Supreme Court. Stretton called the board's decision "way, way too harsh and totally inconsistent" with punishments given to other misbehaving judges recently.

Stretton said Nocella, who was suspended from the bench in November and stripped of his judicial salary in May, was "devastated" by the board's sanction.

Nocella lost primary elections for judgeships in 2001, 2005 and 2009. Then-Gov. Ed Rendell appointed him as Municipal Court judge in 2008 to complete the last 13 months of a term there.

In 2011, ward leaders of the Democratic City Committee, which Nocella had represented as an attorney, picked him as a candidate for a vacant Common Pleas seat.

The Judicial Board of Conduct in October filed formal charges against Nocella, accusing him of not disclosing to the Philadelphia Bar Association two IRS liens filed against him in 2011 for more than $469,000 along with two creditor judgments filed for more than $1.2 million. Nocella also did not disclose that he filed for bankruptcy in 2011.

The board also accused Nocella of not disclosing that he was found in contempt of court for his work on the Appreciation Fund, a political-action committee founded by the late former City Councilwoman Carol Campbell, who was also secretary of the Democratic City Committee.

The Philadelphia Board of Ethics sought that contempt order in 2009, alleging that Nocella helped drain the Appreciation Fund's bank account rather than pay a $39,000 judgment levied because the PAC failed to file required campaign-finance reports in 2007.

On Twitter: @ChrisBrennanDN


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