Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk

Legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus.

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Judicial Impeachment

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | March 26, 2018

No. 1,454

There’s an interesting post on the subject of judicial impeachment in the Brennan Center for Justice Blog. Impeachment of judges is rare.  Although it is not impossible to impeach a judge for his/her rulings, this has not been the practice. A group of members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly are seeking to impeach four members of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for redrawing the Congressional districts in this state.  The Court held that the districts, as established by the legislature, violated the Pennsylvania Constitution.  These legislators believe that the Supreme Court exceeded its authority and usurped a legislative power. Thus, the impeachment resolution.

Image Pennlive

You may remember that Justice Rolf Larsen was impeached and removed from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1994 for misconduct both on and off the bench.  The primary reason was that he had persuaded a doctor to write him prescriptions under a false name. But he was also criticized for improper contact with litigants.

I had only one personal encounter as a young lawyer with then Judge Larsen when he was on the Allegheny County Common Pleas Bench.  I wanted to look at a file at the Prothonotary’s Office which I found had been checked out to Judge Larsen.  I went to his chambers and asked the tipstaff, whereupon I was ushered into chambers and sternly asked why I wanted to see the file.  When I told him I had a similar case, he made me review the file in chambers while he worked at his desk.  I don’t remember the particulars of the interrogation, but I went away with the impression that he thought I was trying to remove papers from the file.  I do remember that the file was not terribly helpful and I couldn’t get away quickly enough. As a result of that encounter, I resolved to stay as far away from this judge as possible.

Justice Larsen’s legacy includes his opinion in Pugh v. Holmes.  In that case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stated that caveat emptor was no longer the law with respect to residential leases in Pennsylvania. Larsen’s opinion stated that there was an implied covenant of habitability in every residential lease, written or oral, which could not be waived.  This opinion was unusual in that it went beyond the facts of that case, setting forth a broad discussion of the law and adopting  a complete range of remedies.

While on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas bench, Judge Larsen was credited with adopting the practice of issuing arrest warrants for fathers who were seriously delinquent in child support payments.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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