Pennsylvania’s judicial watchdog agency has begun an investigation into Lancaster County President Judge Dennis Reinaker’s confrontation of a police officer during a traffic stop earlier this year, LNP has learned.
The Judicial Conduct Board also appears to be interested in the timing of Reinaker’s “self-report” of the matter, raising questions about when he first became aware LNP had obtained police video footage of the traffic stop and sought comment from him for its June 13 report.
The timing of Reinaker’s report is essential, according to legal experts, because it will help investigators determine whether the judge was genuine or merely responding to widespread publicity and criticism following LNP’s initial report.
It remains unclear when Reinaker filed his report with the Judicial Conduct Board. He did not respond to LNP’s request on Thursday for a copy of the document and he has not said when he filed it. Reinaker also did not return a telephone message Friday afternoon.
In his comment to LNP last week, though, the judge initially dismissed his behavior during the traffic stop as being “an instance of mild frustration” and a “minor issue I had on the way to work one morning.”
His first public expression of regret came four days later, in a televised interview with WGAL.
Richard W. Long, the Judicial Conduct Board’s chief counsel, said Friday the agency is not permitted to disclose the existence or discuss details of an investigation without permission from the subject. He declined to confirm the Reinaker investigation but has said that a self-report from a judge automatically triggers an investigation by the board.
LNP learned the Judicial Conduct Board’s probe had begun after an investigator contacted the newspaper seeking information this week. LNP directed the investigator to its reporting on the case.
The newspaper first reported on the traffic stop — during which Reinaker confronted an East Lampeter Township police officer and appeared to suggest his identity would make a difference in the matter — on June 13. Reinaker told LNP that he didn’t expect special treatment from the officer and that he “made no such request on this occasion.”
Reinaker did not indicate to LNP at that time that he had reported the matter to the Judicial Conduct Board. However, in a subsequent interview four days later, Reinaker told WGAL that he had notified the agency of the matter.
The independent Judicial Conduct Board investigates complaints against Pennsylvania judges for alleged violations of ethical rules. The Pennsylvania Judicial Code of Conduct prohibits judges from seeking a benefit from their office.
East Lampeter Township police Officer Chad Snader pulled Reinaker over for allegedly tailgating his unmarked car on Pitney Road. LNP, which first learned of the encounter on May 28, filed a public records request with East Lampeter Township on May 31. The township granted the request and provided a disc with the recording to the newspaper on June 7.
In the footage, Reinaker exits his vehicle and says to Snader, “What do you think you’re doing pulling me over?”
After Snader told Reinaker to return to his vehicle, Reinaker responded, “You better check the registration on this plate soon, mister.”
Snader released the judge a few moments later without a warning or explanation for why he had been pulled over.
LNP first contacted Reinaker’s office about the encounter on June 10. Reinaker responded to a request for an interview with a prepared statement on June 11.
In the statement, Reinaker wrote:
“I am trying to think of what you might be referring to. The only thing I can think of is a minor issue I had on the way to work one morning. If that’s what this is about, the following is the only thing I have to say about it:
“I respect and greatly appreciate the hard work of our law enforcement officers in Lancaster County. Any parking or traffic citations I have ever received were paid without objection. I neither expect nor deserve any special treatment and made no such request on this occasion. However, I am not immune to an instance of mild frustration during a morning commute. In this case, it was not clear to me why I was pulled over. I obeyed the officer’s directives and intended no disrespect.”
Sam Stretton, a Chester County lawyer who has been practicing judicial ethics law for more than three decades, has said the timing of Reinaker’s self-report is crucial to the outcome of any investigation. Whether he did so immediately following the April 26 traffic stop, or whether he did so much later, after he became aware there was police dashcam footage, could determine the level of discipline — if any — against Reinaker.
LNP reporter Lindsey Blest contributed to this report.