A judge from the Pa judicial branch has filed an ethics complaint with the state Supreme Court, saying he was not authorized to nominate candidates for a position at a Pennsylvania Judicial Sales Corporation, the state’s biggest seller of legal services.
The complaint, filed Tuesday, said the state had not paid a penny to the corporation since its inception in 1883.
It was filed under seal by a lawyer for the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office.
The PA Judicial Sales Corp., a division of the state Department of Consumer Protection, is part of a larger statewide organization, the Pennsylvania Division of the Judicial Council, which oversees state judicial hiring and retention.
The PA Division of Judicial Council is part-owned by the Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group, which has given millions to Republican candidates.
The lawsuit said the PA Judicial Council had a conflict of interest by nominating the judge in a state office that was not the PA Division’s.
It said the conflict of interests was made even worse by a recent state Supreme court ruling that upheld the state court’s decision to award more than $2.5 million to the PA Legislative Council in an effort to keep it from firing the PA’s former chief of staff, who was fired in 2016 for refusing to recuse himself from a probe into the governor’s office’s finances.
The Pennsylvania Judicial Council has declined to comment.
State Sen. Joe Benning, a Republican from Erie, filed the complaint Tuesday, saying it was not a “legal filing” but rather an “official request” for a court to investigate.
He said the complaint would be a “huge waste of resources” for the court, which should investigate the ethics violation and ensure that a judge who should be acting as the state supreme court’s nominee can properly do so.
Benning said he believed there was a conflict when he was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and was not able to nominate a candidate who is qualified to do that.
He also said he did not know if any of the candidates who filed to run for the judge’s position had actually been vetted by the PA Commission on Judicial Performance.
The commission has not responded to the lawsuit.
Bening’s complaint asks the court to order the PA Justice Department to appoint an independent investigator to investigate the matter and to take all appropriate actions to ensure that the PA division of judicial sales is not violating state ethics laws.
The PIRG and its state affiliates have donated to Republican presidential candidates, including Donald Trump, Ben Carson and John Kasich.
They also contributed to a 2016 election cycle that saw Republican and Democratic candidates win office in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut.
The attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.