Indicted judge won't seek retention

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The Superior Court judge who announced last week that he would seek retention in the November election despite a federal court indictment has changed his mind.

"It is with immense regret that in light of recent events and after numerous discussions with my family, friends, colleagues and party leaders -- I have decided to withdraw my name from the retention ballot this November," said Judge Michael T. Joyce in a written statement released yesterday afternoon. "Therefore, I will retire from the bench, effective at the end of my current term."

The judge was indicted last week on nine counts of money laundering and mail fraud related to two insurance claims he filed after an August 2001 car accident.

According to the U.S. attorney's office, Judge Joyce received two separate settlements, totaling $440,000, from the slow-speed accident. Though no police or medical personnel responded, Judge Joyce later claimed to have suffered "constant neck and back pain, excruciating headaches, serious discomfort and difficulty sleeping."

Judge Joyce, 58, of Erie, said both his personal and professional life were affected by his injuries. He was forced to stop exercising, he said, and missed out on a run for the state Supreme Court, for which he claimed to have won the Republican nomination, though he had not.

Prosecutors allege, however, that Judge Joyce continued to golf, scuba dive and Rollerblade while injured. Further, he used the proceeds from the accident to buy a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and an interest in an airplane.

In regard to Judge Joyce's decision to withdraw, his position will go back on November's ballot, provided he files a formal withdrawal by Sept. 6.

That means the state Republican and Democratic parties will have to submit one name each as replacement candidates. They will be running for full 10-year terms on the appellate court.

Nominations must be made by Sept. 17 to get on the November ballot, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.

State Republican Party Executive Director Luke Bernstein said yesterday that his organization supported Judge Joyce's decision.

"I think this is in the best interest of Judge Joyce and the party, as well," Mr. Bernstein said. He also said he believes the pending charges would have been a distraction in seeking retention.

The state party chairman spoke with Judge Joyce on Friday, but Mr. Bernstein could not say if that influenced the judge to change his decision to seek re-election.

It also means that Judge Joyce will retire with his pension, though that could change if the state Court of Judicial Discipline moves for forfeiture.

According to the State Employees' Retirement System, he would lose his pension if the Court of Judicial Discipline suspends, removes or bars him from holding judicial office "for conviction of a felony or misconduct in office or conduct which prejudices the proper administration of justice or brings the judicial office into disrepute."

The judge's pension will be based on his years of service and final average salary, as well as a class of service multiplier.

Judge Joyce was first elected to Erie County Common Pleas Court in 1985. He ran for state Superior Court in 1997.

His salary this year is $165,343.

Earlier yesterday, Judge Joyce waived his appearance at his arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter in Erie and pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.


Paula Reed Ward can be reached at pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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