No going back: A disgraced ex-judge should not return as a lawyer

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Former Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Joseph A. Jaffe, who went to prison for betraying the public trust, has withdrawn his petition to have his law license reinstated. That's the right decision.

In February 2003, Mr. Jaffe pleaded guilty to violating the Hobbs Act, a federal law barring public officials from using their office to obtain property or services. The previous August, according to investigators, Mr. Jaffe had shown a list of personal debts to attorney Joel Persky, whose firm had 1,300 asbestos cases before the judge. Mr. Jaffe then promised Mr. Persky access to him in exchange for the cash.

But the attorney reported the conduct to the FBI and wore a wire, leading to Mr. Jaffe's downfall. He was sentenced to 27 months in prison and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and serve three years supervised release. He ended up spending 18-1/2 months in a federal prison camp, two months in a halfway house and 18 months under supervision. He was disbarred in March 2004.

Out of prison now and working as a paralegal at the office of attorney Milton Raiford, Mr. Jaffe had sought to be able to practice law again and so he filed a petition with the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court.

His petition was contrite, saying he had no excuse for his actions. "I have paid for my crime," he wrote, "but I have the desire, the will, the strength to redeem myself, never losing sight of the harm I have caused."

Redemption is a fine goal for anyone who has made a mistake, but Mr. Jaffe does not have to be a lawyer to obtain it. Apparently he has come to the same conclusion, at least for the time being. Mr. Jaffe has withdrawn his petition without prejudice, which means he can and will reapply, according to Mr. Raiford.

He should make his wise decision permanent. As a disgraced judge, there will never be a right time for him to resume a lawyer's career. His offense was too serious and it would be a mockery of the justice system if he returned.

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