An investigation into Lancaster County President Judge Dennis Reinaker's behavior at a traffic stop in April is likely underway after he self-reported the incident to the state’s Judicial Conduct Board.
Reinaker told WGAL in an interview Monday that he reported himself to the state's independent judiciary watchdog.
It is unclear what — if any — action the board may take. Or if the public will ever learn the results.
Last week, LNP reported that Reinaker was pulled over April 26 in East Lampeter Township for allegedly tailgating police Officer Chad Snader. After confronting the officer about being pulled over and being told to return to his vehicle, Reinaker said "You better check the registration on this plate soon, mister."
He was released a few moments later without a warning or explanation for why he had been pulled over.
Reinaker did not say in his interview with WGAL if he self-reported the incident immediately after it happened or if the report came in proximity to LNP's story.
Reached by phone Monday night, Reinaker declined to answer further questions. And Richard W. Long, the board's chief counsel, would neither confirm nor deny that the board received a self-report from Reinaker.
But Long did say that when a judge self-reports, it triggers an investigation by the board.
What happens next?
According to the board's procedures, investigations are kept private unless the judge in question requests it be made public.
At the conclusion of an investigation, the board has several options available to them. Complaints can be dismissed after an initial review, as strictly a legal error or for jurisdictional issues; judges may receive letters of counsel or caution; judges can retire in lieu of charges; or in the most serious cases, the board can file formal charges in the Court of Judicial Discipline.
Letters of caution are meant to be a "wake up call" to a judge, according to the board, warning them that their behavior may lead to a finding of misconduct if not corrected.
A letter of counsel is issued when there is enough evidence of misconduct for formal charges, but the incident is believed to be isolated or a first-time infraction.
According to the board, "evidence of genuine remorse on the part of a judicial officer is weighed heavily by the board in its decision whether to issue a letter of counsel or to file formal charges."
Judges are required to accept and sign letters of counsel, but both letters of caution and letters of counsel are not made public.
When charges are filed in the Court of Judicial Discipline the matter becomes public. A hearing is held and the court determines whether charges will be dismissed or sustained.
When charges are sustained, the judge can face sanctions including reprimand, censure, fine, suspension (with or without pay), probation or removal from office.
According to the board's 2018 review, the board closed 4,014 complaints from 2014 through 2018. Of those, 99 resulted in letters of caution, 34 in letters of counsel and 26 in formal charges.
Other Lancaster judges
Since 2007, at least three Lancaster County judges have faced punishment from the board.
In 2007, magisterial district judge Maynard A. "Bud" Hamilton Jr. was suspended for nine months without pay and given one year of probation for punching an off-duty police sergeant.
Joseph A. Massa Jr., chief counsel for the board at the time, said that "the board considers lawless public misbehavior by a judge as particularly troublesome; and similar judicial misconduct will be aggressively investigated and charged in the future."
In 2011, another Lancaster magisterial district judge faced sanctions for bringing "disrepute" upon the office. Isaac H. Stoltzfus, a judge in Intercourse, was accused of violating the code of conduct for distributing hollowed-out acorns with condoms in them to women at the state capitol.
More recently, in 2013, Lancaster city magisterial district judge Kelly Ballentine was suspended for 16 months for fixing her own parking tickets. She also plead guilty to three misdemeanors.
Two years later the Court of Judicial Discipline, in a 5-3 ruling, filed an order removing Ballentine from office, citing her dismissal of her own traffic tickets and subsquent charges related to failing to file tax returns. The state supreme court upheld Ballentine’s removal in 2016.