- Associated Press - Thursday, May 22, 2014

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - State prosecutors filed corruption charges against a retired Philadelphia judge on Thursday for allegedly using the public resources of his judicial office to run his private real-estate company.

Willis Berry Jr., 72, turned himself in to face one felony count each of theft of services and conflict of interest.

The attorney general’s office said Berry, who served as a Philadelphia common pleas judge from 1996 to 2012, used his judicial secretary and other taxpayer resources in the daily operation of his business between 1997 and 2007.

Berry will plead not guilty, said his lawyer, Samuel Stretton.

Stretton questioned why state prosecutors waited so long to bring criminal charges. He noted that the state Court of Judicial Discipline considered the ethical implications of the same allegations and suspended Berry from the bench for four months without pay in 2009.

“It’s outrageous,” Stretton said. “I see no purpose for this and I think it’s wrong.”

According to the attorney general’s office, Berry’s secretary maintained records, communicated with residents, prepared leases and eviction complaints, appeared at landlord-tenant proceedings and handled bank deposits and other financial details. The value of that work based on her salary is estimated at more than $110,000 over the 10 years, prosecutors said.

Berry owned and managed as many as 16 properties, including several multi-unit buildings, during his tenure as judge, authorities said.

Last month, the state Supreme Court suspended Berry’s law license for one year in an unrelated civil fraud case. That case stemmed from a real-estate transaction in which a legal client took ownership of a property, then sold it to Berry for $1,500. The property was later valued at $180,000.

The client, who testified that she didn’t know the property had been deeded to her, sued Berry and the case went to trial. A Philadelphia jury awarded her $180,000 in punitive damages - an award that was affirmed on appeal in 2012.


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