The dense procedure surrounding the complaint process can be time-consuming and difficult to navigate. In April 2017, Pennsylvanians For Modern Courts issued Report and Recommendations for Improving Pennsylvania’s Judicial Discipline System, in which the group recommended that the Judicial Conduct Board and the Court of Judicial Discipline “enact procedures and practices that promote greater transparency and accountability of [their] processes and decision-making,” in order to promote accountability and public trust.
“We have a recommendation that they make it easier to report misconduct,” says PMC Executive Director Maida Malone. “I don’t think there are any avenues necessarily built into the system other than citizens being able to file a complaint.”
The report also found that the processes are unnecessarily obscured. According to the report, “A citizen or lawyer should not be required to go on an Internet hunt to obtain basic and important information about procedures, rules, cases, or processes.”
Any citizen, regardless of whether they were involved in a particular case, can file a complaint. The form to file a complaint can be found at www.judicialconductboardofpa.org, but the form must be filled out and sent through the mail; there’s no way to electronically file a complaint.
At age 73, Nauhaus is officially retired. However, when he turned 70, he was approved for senior status by the state court administrator. Senior status allows retired judges to continue to serve the Commonwealth if there is a need.
That commission, according to state law, is at the discretion of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. According to Rule 701 of the Pennsylvania Code: “Certification of a magisterial district judge, judge or justice for senior status shall be subject to the pleasure of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court at any time, in the exercise of its sole discretion, may rescind or revoke a senior certification.”
The victim and her family aren’t the only people upset with Nauhaus’ comments.
Asked about the judge’s actions in the courtroom, Alison Hall, executive director of Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, says, “It’s very discouraging for somebody from the bench to speak to victims in this way.”
Hall says Nauhaus had a chance to make a difference in this case by respecting the victim’s situation, and “providing the offender with potential intervention to stop these dangerous behaviors from escalating into felonies.”
According to the hearing transcript, the defendant had been in the foster system for some time, and the DA’s office wasn’t seeking an excessive penalty. Even the defendant’s representative admitted that her client “acknowledges what he did on this particular incident was incorrect” and, as Nauhaus says, “at the end of the day, all you want is for me to be merciful, right?”
The American Judges Association is an organization whose goal, according to its website, is to “improve the effective administration of justice” and provide continuing education for members of the judiciary and the general public.
Minneapolis trial Judge Kevin Burke is the treasurer of the AJA and while he was not referring to this particular case, he tells CP that generally: “You do have to be concerned when the victim is a child, particularly. When you’re dealing with a child, that the language you use as a judge, and the messages that you send are really very, very critically important. When you’re dealing in areas of bullying or sexual harassment or worse, [the judge] needs to send a message [that the judge] will take complaints seriously.
“When you’re not careful about what you say and what you do, you can send messages that will undermine the public’s trust, confidence and respect for the justice system.”
Sue Frietsche, a staff attorney at the Women’s Law Project, agrees: “The fine Judge Nauhaus imposed sends the message that sexual assault is a trivial thing, and that justice is served if an offender is charged a dollar a touch. The judge never should have done that and owed that young woman more respectful and compassionate treatment.”
This isn’t the first time Nauhaus has come under fire for his decorum, or lack thereof, on the bench. In its March 29 issue, CP reported on Nauhaus’ handling of a harassment case filed by a local business owner. In that case, Nauhaus dismissed the harassment charge, saying the verbal harassment wasn’t that bad because “I have a president who talks worse than that.”
In this recent case, it appears as though Nauhaus might have once again referenced President Donald Trump. “Listen,” Nauhaus said from the bench regarding the touching, “I can name at least one adult that thinks that’s OK.” Tisak responded, “Yes, your honor. The Commonwealth does not.” Nauhaus then said: “I understand that. He’s an important guy.”