PA’s Lax Judicial Oversight in the Masha Allen Case

During the past four years numerous questions have been raised about how and why then-Allegheny County Judge Cheryl Lynn Allen was allowed to preside over the adoption of Masha Allen by her namesake and former roommate Faith Allen.

For a long time I wondered the same thing. Almost three years ago, I filed this complaint with the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board. After supplying additional information at the request of JCB’s chief counsel, Joseph A. Massa Jr., the JCB presumably spent a year investigating my allegations. Right after Judge Allen won her hotly contested election to the Pennsylvania court of appeals in late 2007 (she recently ran for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and lost in the primary), my complaint against Judge Allen was summarily rejected.

Now that same board and its chief counsel, Joseph A. Massa Jr., have been accused of “stonewalling” Pennsylvania’s Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice in its attempt to evaluate the JCB’s handling of a complaint against corrupt Luzerne County Judge Michael T. Conahan.

The same person who handled my complaint against Judge Allen, Joseph A. Massa Jr., allegedly acted as the “gatekeeper” for the judicial disciplinary system who kept the complaint against Judge Conahan away from the 12 member JCB.

“In our efforts to gather information from the JCB we have asked for it formally, informally, on the record and off the record,” said John M. Cleland, chairman of the Interbranch Commission. “Our requests for meaningful information have been met with an unyielding refusal to provide the information based on an assertion of constitutional confidentiality.”

According to The Legal Intelligencer, ever since the revelation in September that the JCB received the complaint against Conahan, the board’s responses to inquiries have raised a host of troubling questions.

How many complaints were filed against Conahan? What did the board do with those complaints? When did the board speak with federal authorities?

What, if anything, did the JCB tell federal investigators regarding the complaints? What did the board do with the complaints between the time they were filed and the filing of federal charges? Why wasn’t the board made aware of the allegations in the 2006 complaint?

Robert L. Byer, a former Commonwealth Court judge and former member of the Court of Judicial Discipline, said the JCB needs to be more forthcoming.

“This situation is so serious, there cannot be any sacred cows,” said Byer, now an appellate lawyer with Duane Morris. “There needs to be full disclosure.”

Byer said that two things “ought to happen” to address the questions surrounding the JCB’s handling of the case and the judicial discipline system as a whole.

“The Supreme Court should give consideration of an independent investigation of the board,” he said. “[And] I think the General Assembly should have a committee look at this and consider whether this situation calls for changes” to the state constitution regarding the JCB and the Court of Judicial Discipline.

Perhaps now serious questions will be asked and answered about the highly unusual domestic adoption of the internationally adopted and sex trafficked child named Allen.

1 Reply to "PA's Lax Judicial Oversight in the Masha Allen Case"

  • James R. Marsh
    March 9, 2010 (3:33 pm)

    No surprise here:

    Conduct Board Admits Not Investigating Complaints Against Pa. Judge
    Despite receiving four complaints since 2004 against former Luzerne County, Pa., Judge Michael T. Conahan, who is facing federal racketeering charges, the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board never investigated any of them, it has admitted in writing.
    In a 12-page response to written questions from the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice, the JCB’s chief counsel, Joseph Massa, wrote that the board did not conduct a preliminary investigation, conduct interviews or review any documents related to the complaints.
    According to the JCB’s answers, obtained by The Legal Intelligencer, the board received complaints against Conahan in 2004, 2006 and two in 2008.
    And in a startling revelation, Massa said that, not only did the board fail to refer a detailed 2006 complaint to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, he didn’t turn it over to investigators until nearly 18 months later, in April 2008.

    I’m sure Mr. Massa took my complaint about Judge Allen much more seriously then these complaints of felony criminal conspiracy by the Luzerne County judges.