On May 28, LNP received a tip about a confrontation between Lancaster County President Judge Dennis Reinaker and a police officer. On May 31, LNP submitted a request for the dashcam video from East Lampeter Township under Act 22, a 2017 law that governs the release of video and audio recordings made by police departments; LNP’s request was granted June 7. The resulting coverage by LNP’s Carter Walker has raised questions about Reinaker’s actions during and after the incident. The Pennsylvania Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits judges from seeking any benefit from their office.
Let’s analyze the facts as, say, a president judge might. Let’s consider the following timeline.
— LNP’s Walker reported June 13 that President Judge Reinaker had been pulled over April 26 by East Lampeter Township police Officer Chad Snader for allegedly tailgating his unmarked police car on Pitney Road.
In the dashcam footage, Reinaker is seen emerging from his SUV to berate the police officer for initiating the traffic stop. “What do you think you’re doing pulling me over?” Reinaker asked. “For blowing my horn?” After being directed by Snader to return to his vehicle, Reinaker is seen pointing to the license plate on his SUV and telling the officer: “You better check the registration on this plate soon, mister.”
Walker’s story and the dashcam video drew an outcry from the public; people were angered by a judge seemingly demanding, and receiving, special treatment because of his position. (After Snader checked Reinaker's registration, he let the judge go without a ticket or even a warning.)
— The LNP Editorial Board weighed in June 14, asserting that Reinaker’s behavior as seen on the video was an ethical breach and “a vivid display of the mindset of someone who confuses the importance of his job with his own importance.”
— Just a few days later, June 17, Reinaker gave an interview to WGAL in which he revealed that he had self-reported the April 26 incident to the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board. That’s an independent entity within the state judiciary that investigates allegations of ethical misconduct made against judges.
Richard W. Long, the Judicial Conduct Board’s chief counsel, would neither confirm nor deny to LNP that the board received a self-report from Reinaker. But Long noted that when a judge self-reports, it triggers an investigation by the board.
As LNP’s Walker pointed out, 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 the night of his interview with WGAL, Reinaker declined to comment further.
Walker reported June 22 that an investigation into Reinaker’s conduct is indeed underway, and that it may be examining the timing of the judge’s self-report.
“The timing of Reinaker’s report is essential, according to legal experts,” Walker wrote, “because it will help investigators determine whether the judge was genuine or merely responding to widespread publicity and criticism following LNP’s initial report.”
That does indeed seem to be essential.
If only there was a way to find out that information.
There is, of course, a way: Reinaker could provide a copy of his self-report. But he did not respond to LNP’s June 20 request for a copy of that document, and did not return a phone call the following day.
If the self-report is exculpatory — to use a term with which the president judge would be familiar — why isn’t he releasing it? Wouldn’t Reinaker be eager to prove that he was so stricken with remorse after the April 26 incident that he promptly reported his behavior to the Judicial Conduct Board?
Remorse is important, it seems. 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.”
Without the document, all we have is circumstantial evidence. Let’s examine that.
It was June 10 when LNP’s Walker first requested a meeting with Reinaker to discuss “an incident from April in East Lampeter.” Reinaker issued a prepared statement June 11.
He 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. ... 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.”
Does that sound like a man so full of contrition that he filed a self-report to the Judicial Conduct Board?
By Reinaker’s reckoning, the incident was so “minor” he barely could recall it. Indeed, he wasn’t even sure if Walker’s query was about that particular incident — that’s how minor it was, from his perspective. And, anyway, he’s only human, right? Is he supposed to be “immune to an instance of mild frustration”?
As Walker pointed out, Reinaker’s first public expression of regret — in the WGAL interview — came four days after LNP’s initial article on the matter. The judge told WGAL’s Susan Shapiro that he wished he hadn’t gotten out of his vehicle during the traffic stop — a violation of expected practice. “I know better than that,” Reinaker said.
The judge knows a great deal about how the system works. Certainly enough to know that a self-report might mitigate the harm he’d done to his reputation by throwing a hissy fit of entitlement and privilege during that April 26 traffic stop.
Of course, we could be wrong in drawing the conclusion that Reinaker — spurred by negative publicity — tried to take control of the situation by reporting his behavior to the Judicial Conduct Board before anyone else did.
We admit to being skeptics. We were skeptical, too, when Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said his wife just happened to discover that he’d erroneously filed a mileage reimbursement claim for his leased vehicle — after LNP filed a Right-to-Know request for information about that vehicle.
We believe in the importance of the judiciary, so we’d like to be proven wrong. Judge Reinaker could prove us wrong by producing a copy of his self-report, with the date on which it was filed.
Otherwise, as they say in court, we rest our case.