The Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board has filed two charges against first-term Lancaster city District Judge Andrew LeFever, claiming he violated the state constitution and judicial conduct rules by being a candidate in the May 2019 primary election while also serving as a Lancaster City Democratic Committee person and endorsing candidates.
The board is seeking LeFever’s suspension while the charges are litigated before the state’s Court of Judicial Discipline. According to the state constitution, should the court find LeFever guilty, sanctions can range from unspecified discipline, suspension to removal from office.
It’s not clear what led to the charges, which were filed Monday.
The Judicial Conduct Board’s complaint said LeFever became a candidate on Jan. 27, 2019, by announcing on Facebook that he was running for the office.
According to the “Rules Governing Standards of Conduct of Magisterial District Judges,” candidates may not hold office in a political organization or endorse candidates, and must act in “a manner consistent with the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary.”
The charges said LeFever violated the rules by endorsing city council and School District of Lancaster board candidates in February 2019. And those activities also violated the rule addressing impartiality, according to the charges.
Judicial conduct violations are automatically a state constitution violation.
What prompted charges unknown
LeFever, a former county prosecutor, did not return a message left at his office Tuesday, and his office phone rang unanswered on Wednesday, which was a holiday.
His attorney, Robert A. Graci, former chief counsel of the Judicial Conduct Board and a retired state Superior Court judge, said he didn’t know what led to the investigation, but his understanding was that it began in 2019.
“We will respond both to the petition for suspension and the charges,” he said.
Richard W. Long, the current chief counsel of the Judicial Conduct Board, also would not say what led to the charges, citing confidentiality that protects complainants. The board can also open investigations on its own, he said.
The board receives more than 700 requests for investigations a year, he said, and how long it takes to investigate can vary greatly.
“Obviously, the board deemed it serious enough to file not only a board complaint, but to seek an interim suspension,” he said.
Allegations arose during election
The alleged violations were the subject of a March 2019 county court challenge to LeFever’s candidacy in which then-President Judge Dennis Reinaker ruled LeFever became a candidate on March 12, 2019, when he filed nominating petitions. LeFever resigned from the committee the day before.
That challenge was filed by one of LeFever’s opponents, John Kenneff.
Kenneff on Wednesday said he didn’t file a complaint, nor did he ask anyone to on his behalf.
Kenneff said he was surprised when a board investigator contacted him in January about the matter.
A third candidate in the race, Sharon Watson, said that she did not a file a complaint.
Magisterial district judges handle summary criminal cases and traffic and non-traffic citations, try civil cases not exceeding $12,000, and preside over preliminary hearings for criminal charges..
LeFever’s district court covers the northeast part of Lancaster. The seat opened after Janice Jimenez retired in January 2019, with one year remaining in her second term.
Jimenez, who was the first Latina elected to the position in the state outside of the Philadelphia area, cited unspecified health concerns. District judges are elected to six-year terms and are paid $93,338.
Editor's note: This article was updated to include that Watson confirmed she had not filed a complaint.