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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Judge Upbraided for Waving Gun on the Road

(CN) - A judge in Pennsylvania whose "road rage" led him to brandish a gun at another motorist should be disciplined, the state Supreme Court ruled.

Thomas Carney, a magisterial district judge in Erie County, Pa., had been on the road on Jan. 11, 2009, after attending a Pittsburgh Steelers game at Heinz Field.

While driving in the left lane on Interstate 79, Carney found himself behind a vehicle driven by Nico Baldelli, a college student.

Carney flashed his lights to indicate his desire to pass and, when Baldelli's car remained in the lane, moved into the right-hand lane himself.

As he passed Baldelli, the judge gave him the finger.

Baldelli then got behind Carney in the right hand and flashed his lights, prompting the judge to slow down.

When Baldelli moved back into the left lane, he slowed down so the cars were driving alongside one another. The student then gave Carney the finger and shouted obscenities.

Carney allegedly hoped to "de-escalate the situation" by retrieving his handgun from the console and holding it out the window for 2 or 3 seconds so Baldelli could see it. He did not point the gun at the other vehicle.

Baldelli immediately put distance between himself and Carney, then called his parents, who notified the state police.

Carney was charged with four misdemeanor counts and ultimately pleaded guilty to two charges of disorderly conduct, carrying a $541 fine.

The Judicial Board of Conduct filed a complaint against Carney, but the Court of Judicial Discipline sided with the judge, crediting his explanation that he "was concerned about the escalation of the incident and displayed the gun in an effort to defuse the situation with the intention (or hope) that showing Baldelli the gun would result in Baldelli 'backing off,' which it did." (Parentheses in original.)

On Wednesday, the unanimous Pennsylvania Supreme Court said Carney must be sanctioned for his misconduct.

"The CJD's conclusion that appellee's conduct was neither threatening nor unreasonable was erroneous," Chief Justice Ronald Castille wrote, abbreviating Court of Judicial Discipline. "Appellee's subjective assessment of the incident has little weight when considering the ultimate question of whether the public's perception of the judiciary as a whole is affected by appellee's initiation, continued participation in, and escalation of this incident involving the brandishing of a gun during a high speed dispute on the highway."

The fact that Carney had a valid concealed weapon permit to carry the firearm he displayed was not relevant to the ethics inquiry, the court found.

"The board's observation that this sort of incident invites the view that judges appear to believe that they are above the law is especially apt here," the 31-page opinion states. "People who brandish guns during road rage incidents should properly expect themselves to be viewed as exhibiting disreputable conduct."

The code of judicial conduct requires judges to conduct themselves in a way that preserves judicial integrity and uphold public trust in the judicial branch.

"One aspiring to, or holding, the office cannot reasonably expect to be a rogue in his or her private life without thereby staining the integrity of the position," Castille wrote.

Carney's guilty plea to two summary offenses of disorderly conduct did not, however, affect the integrity of the judicial office, the court found. As such, he should not be subjected to disciplinary action under Rule 2A of the MDJ rules.

The high court affirmed the dismissal of other charges against Carney stemming from his comments to a local newspaper regarding an anti-graffiti taskforce. Carney is off the hook on this count because an objectionable statement in the article was made by the editorial writer, not the judge himself.

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