Lancaster County President Judge Dennis Reinaker violated Pennsylvania's code of judicial ethics when he told a police officer he had "better check the registration on this plate soon, mister" at a traffic stop in April, a state oversight board found.
The state Judicial Conduct Board received three complaints related to the East Lampeter incident and determined there was enough evidence to file charges against Reinaker for violating Canon 1, Rule 1.2, of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
The section states: "A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety."
Reinaker, in an emailed statement to LNP | LancasterOnline Monday, said: “As I’ve said before, I have the utmost respect for our law enforcement officers, and I’d like to think the numerous officers I’ve encountered in and outside my courtroom would attest to that.
"I regret my actions at the time of the traffic stop and believe the outcome of the Board’s investigation to be appropriate and fair."
The board opted not to file charges, instead issuing what is known as a "letter of counsel," an outcome similar to accelerated rehabilitative disposition (ARD) in criminal court, Sam Stretton, a Chester County attorney and judicial ethics expert, said.
The letter of counsel was released publicly on Monday.
Reinaker was pulled over April 26 in East Lampeter Township for allegedly tailgating Officer Chad Snader. Reinaker confronted Snader about the stop and was told to return to his vehicle. "You better check the registration on this plate soon, mister," Reinaker said.
He was released a few moments later without a warning or explanation for why he had been pulled over. "Have a good day, judge," the officer said.
In its letter, the board wrote it would not be filing charges because Reinaker cooperated with the investigation, the conduct was "brief and singular in nature," he apologized to Officer Snader, he accepted responsibility and he self-reported the incident on June 14. The board said the letter must be made public in lieu of charges being filed.
Reinaker's self-report to the Judicial Conduct Board came the day after the incident was reported by LNP and subsequently brought national attention to Pennsylvania's judiciary.
"Sometimes people make mistakes, sometimes they get too full of themselves and regret it later," Stretton said. "The fact that he accepted responsibility, that he's telling people he's wrong, that's a good sign."
Stretton said letters of counsel are generally used when there is enough evidence to pursue a charge, but the incident was isolated and the offending judge has no prior history of misconduct with the board.
Last year, the Judicial Conduct Board received 789 complaints and issued 11 letters of counsel. Most complaints, and their dispositions, are kept confidential due to provisions in the state constitution.