- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 28, 2014

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Seamus P. McCaffery, who retired abruptly on Monday after nearly seven years as a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice, took an unusual path to the state’s highest court.

A former Philadelphia homicide detective, he never clerked for a high-profile judge, never edited a law journal and never did a stint as a prosecutor. In fact, he hardly even practiced law before his first judgeship, getting elected to the Philadelphia municipal court just four years after earning a law degree by going to night school while he was a policeman.

When he got elected to the Supreme Court 14 years later, he was a celebrity of sorts, thanks largely to his time meting out justice to unruly football fans at the Eagles Court at Veterans Stadium, at the invitation of the Philadelphia Eagles’ owner.

On the Philadelphia court, he was known as a gruff, perp-scolding judge and, to some, a self-promoter. Some viewed him as a cop in black robes.

Once he jumped over the bench to tackle a defendant who was overpowering a sheriff’s deputy. Another time, according to an account in The Philadelphia Inquirer, he told a young slouching defendant that his “favorite four-letter word is J-A-I-L.”

“He’s your blue-collar judge that thinks more about the ordinary person,” said Tom Jankiewicz, a retired ironworker and a friend of three decades.

McCaffery, 64, retired a week after being suspended over his involvement in a porn emails scandal. The Supreme Court’s chief justice said McCaffery had exchanged emails with sexually explicit material or pornography with a now-retired agent in the state attorney general’s office. McCaffery apologized for what he called a “lapse of judgment,” but he also said that as an ex-U.S. Marine and policeman, “coarse language and crude jokes” were part of his background.

McCaffery, the second of seven siblings, was born in Belfast, in Northern Ireland, and was raised in Philadelphia by a father who had been a boxer. Two of his sons work for the FBI, another for the Philadelphia police. He is a motorcycle enthusiast who excels at the shooting range and retired as a colonel after 30 years in the reserves.

His relationship with the legal establishment had always been a bit rocky, even before he and Chief Justice Ronald Castille mixed it up, with Castille calling him a “sociopath.”

McCaffery had only been out of law school for a year when he ran for the Philadelphia municipal court as a Republican. The Philadelphia Bar Association slapped him with a “not recommended” rating after he refused to participate in its review process. He lost.

Two years later, he got elected as a Democrat - after, the Inquirer reported, he had won party backing by providing free legal service to constituents at the party’s direction.

He was on his way. But even after he was named head judge of the Philadelphia municipal bench and won a seat on the Superior Court, he managed only a “recommended” rating from the Pennsylvania Bar Association when he sought a seat on the state’s highest court, not the “highly recommended” rating it gave two other candidates.

Still, as a judge, he pushed successfully for changes to try to keep cases from being dropped at the hearing stage for technical reasons, protect witnesses from intimidation and get special attention for veterans and victims of domestic violence.


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