Ex-judge waives hearing on conflict charges

Posted: August 07, 2014

Former Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Willis W. Berry Jr. on Tuesday waived his right to a preliminary hearing on conflict-of-interest charges for allegedly running a real estate business from his judicial chambers.

Berry, 71, and attorney W. Fred Harrison Jr. appeared briefly before Municipal Judge Patrick F. Dugan.

By his waiving a preliminary hearing, the case against Berry proceeds to trial. Berry's lawyers have said they hoped to negotiate a plea that would end the criminal case, but not endanger Berry's pension.

In May, Pa. Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane's office filed criminal conflict-of-interest and theft-of-services charges against Berry.

Berry's longtime attorney, Samuel S. Stretton, has denounced the charges, saying they may be too old to prosecute.

Stretton also contends that the allegations were already addressed in 2009 by the state's Court of Judicial Discipline, which called Berry's conduct "flat-out wrong" and suspended him without pay for four months.

At that time, the suspension resulted in criminal investigations - but no charges - by the Attorney General's Office or District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham.

The basics of the case against Berry - first outlined between 2007 and 2009 in articles in The Inquirer - were reiterated in documents filed with the state charges.

The complaint alleges that Berry bilked Philadelphia taxpayers out of $110,000 by using his judicial secretary to handle 16 subcode rental properties from his chambers in the Criminal Justice Center.

Berry, elected judge in 1995, retired in September 2012 on the same day he was to pay a $180,000 civil fraud judgment involving a North Philadelphia property that a city jury found he acquired by deceiving a client.

In April, the state Supreme Court suspended Berry's law license for a year and one day over that incident.


jslobodzian@phillynews.com

215-854-2985 @joeslobo

www.inquirer.com/

crimeandpunishment

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