by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer
There’s an old saying that goes, “What’s done in the dark will come to the light.”
But for Pennsylvania’s chief justice of the state Supreme Court, what was “said” in the dark has come to the light, according to a Pa. judge who then signed an affidavit with the alleged comments.
McKeesport resident Cynthia Baldwin, a former state Supreme Court justice, the second Black woman ever appointed to such a position in Pa., made public the affidavit, signed in 2019 by Judge Barry Feudale. The Philadelphia Inquirer first reported last week, July 23, that in the affidavit, Judge Feudale spoke with now-Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor at a judicial conference in 2012 in Hershey, Pa., while Saylor was an associate justice of the state Supreme Court. Justice Saylor complimented Judge Feudale “on his oversight of the grand jury investigating” former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Justice Saylor, according to the Inquirer, then told Judge Feudale “a disciplinary complaint would be brought against Baldwin in connection with the case.”
Next, Justice Saylor, according to the affidavit, said of Baldwin: “She caused us a lot of trouble when she was on the Supreme Court because of her minority agenda.”
Judge Feudale said he was “stunned,” according to the Inquirer. He also reminded Justice Saylor that “disclosure of grand jury material was forbidden,” according to the Inquirer.
Baldwin, a Democrat, served on the state’s highest court in 2006 and 2007, an appointee of then-Governor Ed Rendell.
She later became chief counsel for Penn State University during the Sandusky scandal, an ordeal which ultimately resulted in Sandusky being convicted on 45 counts against him related to child sex abuse while a coach at the university. Sandusky was found guilty in 2012 and is currently serving what will end up being the rest of his life in prison.
For Baldwin, making the affidavit public could be construed as defending herself, even fighting back, against what she views as years of unfair treatment by the state Supreme Court and its corresponding Disciplinary Board, though Justice Saylor denies making the statements about Baldwin attributed to him.
On July 22, the Disciplinary Board issued a six-minute public reprimand of Baldwin, of which the board said that she violated ethics rules by representing Penn State and testifying in a secret grand jury on behalf of three university administrators who would eventually be charged in the Sandusky case.
“As a result of your disclosure of client confidences before the grand jury, certain criminal charges against these Penn State administrators were not able to be prosecuted,” said James Haggerty, chair of the board, to Baldwin via an online session.
The state Supreme Court issued the reprimand for Baldwin in February, though in 2018, a review panel of Baldwin’s actions found that she had fully disclosed her various legal roles to the three men in question, former PSU president Graham Spanier, vice president Gary Schultz, and athletic director Tim Curley. The review panel rejected the claim against Baldwin, but the state Supreme Court ultimately decided to move forward with a vote to reprimand Baldwin.
But before the actual vote in February, the Inquirer reported that Baldwin informed Justice Saylor about the sworn affidavit, and his alleged comments inside the affidavit. Mysteriously, Justice Saylor was not present when the Supreme Court voted 4-0 to reprimand Baldwin on Feb. 19.
The Inqurier reported that after the newspaper’s repeated inquiries, “the court amended its (original) statement to say Saylor withdrew after ‘Feudale’s false claims were brought to his attention.’ The new statement cited both the allegations and his service aside Baldwin as reasons for his recusal.”
Did Justice Saylor violate ethics rules for judges? The Inquirer spoke to two law professors, Charles G. Geyh of the Indiana University law school, and Stephen Gillers, a New York University law professor.
Geyh told the Inquirer that Justice Saylor may have improperly “engaged in ex parte communication with another judge,” as the alleged conversation took place behind Baldwin’s back. “Having a judge approach a judge who is overseeing this grand jury process smacks of an abuse of power,” Geyh said.
And Gillers told the Inquirer that “the Supreme Court justice (Saylor) should not be talking to anyone outside the court itself about an impending or pending matter that could come before the court.”
Baldwin has two claims to fame in her professional career—she was the first African American woman elected to the Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, where she spent 16 years as judge, in addition to the aforementioned distinction of being just the second Black woman to be appointed to the state’s highest court.
Baldwin has chaired the boards of the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities and Penn State University, and served on the Duquesne University board. She recently retired from the corporate board of Koppers Inc. and was named vice chair of the Fulbright Association. Baldwin also serves on the Advisory Board of the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University.
Baldwin, 75, in an interview with the Associated Press, July 24, said about the disciplinary process against her: “If the affidavit is as sworn, it shows bias and vindictiveness.”
Cynthia Baldwin, a former state Supreme Court justice, and the first Black woman elected to the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas.