Fired staff says alcohol impairing judge

By Chris Osher
Thursday, December 6, 2001

Fired staffers for Allegheny County Judge Patrick McFalls filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday, claiming the judge abuses alcohol so much that he cannot perform his duties.

The Common Pleas judge has been drinking excessively for the past three years, claims the lawsuit filed on behalf of McFalls' former law clerk, James Joseph, and the judge's former secretary, Barbara Joseph.

The lawsuit alleges McFalls has conducted trials, decided cases and driven while under the influence of alcohol. It claimed that the judge fired the Josephs after they told other judges about the alcohol abuse.

McFalls denied the allegations, saying he does not even drink alcohol. The judge claimed the Josephs, a married couple from Highland Park, were seeking revenge after they were fired Nov. 13 for running a limousine service instead of showing up for work at his courtroom.

"They are obviously desperate," McFalls said. "They can't prove one of those things. That's sad that they would do this after all I've done for them."

The lawsuit presents another layer of controversy since the sudden firing of McFalls' staff last month. After the firings, McFalls wanted to hire his son, Patrick McFalls III, a second-year student at Duquesne University Law School, as his tipstaff, which pays $32,577.

His son declined, and the judge then announced he was hiring Ben Woods, a former City Council president from the North Side who served a federal prison term for corruption charges. Woods also declined to accept the post.

The judge now says he is seeking candidates from Duquesne's law school.

The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages, payment of back wages and benefits and punitive damages. It claims the Josephs were protected under the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law, which prohibits public bodies from discrimination for reporting incidents of wrongdoing.

This is the second time that allegations of drinking have dogged McFalls. In 1986, he was charged with drunken driving and agreed to enter an accelerated rehabilitative disposition program, which expunged the arrest.

The Josephs did not return telephone messages seeking comment. Their lawyer, Samuel Cordes, said the judge would be proven wrong in the courtroom.

"I'm not going to try the case in the papers, but the facts will show something different" than McFalls' account, Cordes said.

Cordes added that McFalls never once brought up any concerns about a limousine service with the Josephs.

The lawsuit alleges that on Oct. 29 the judge showed up late from an extended trip to the Cayman Islands, still under the influence of alcohol, dressed in vacation clothes, wearing sandals. Then, according to the lawsuit, his staff had to find a tie so he could appear properly dressed under his robe. While conducting a jury trial that day, a bottle of vodka dropped out of the judge's pocket in front of others, the lawsuit claimed.

"The first question is to get them to name the people who saw the vodka bottle fall out of the judge's pocket," McFalls said. "It couldn't be the Josephs. They were never there. I had no staff."

McFalls said his return from the Cayman Islands had been delayed because of a severe sunburn.

In a nod to how bitter the dispute had become, the judge added: "When they come to my family's funerals, these people are such idiots, they stand in the corner like Lurch of the Adaams Family."

The lawsuit said that during the trip to the Cayman Islands, the judge would call the Josephs repeatedly to tell them he was "personally responsible for buying every bottle of Dom Perignon in the Caymans."

His drinking delayed his return from the Caymans, forcing the staff to reschedule pending matters, the lawsuit asserts. Then, after returning late for those scheduled matters, the judge announced he wanted to return to the Caymans and wanted to invite several acquaintances, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit said the Josephs took their concerns to Joseph James, the administrative judge for the court's Civil Division, to which McFalls is assigned.

James and President Judge Robert Kelly then scheduled a meeting with McFalls, according to the lawsuit.

"Judge James told plaintiffs that if McFalls agreed to rehabilitation, he would attempt to 'save his ticket,'" the lawsuit states. James also told the Josephs the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had asked him to closely monitor McFalls' drinking because of previous incidents.

James and Kelly could not be reached for comment. They declined comment earlier this week when asked if a judicial committee that monitors Allegheny County judges, of which they are members, had asked McFalls to undergo testing to determine if he was abusing alcohol.

McFalls said in an interview that Kelly had asked him why he was losing so much weight and had told McFalls the Josephs were alleging he was acting bizarrely in the courtroom. McFalls said that he allayed Kelly's concerns when he told Kelly the Josephs were upset because he had threatened to fire them for failing to show up for work.

The lawsuit said that on the morning of Nov. 14, a uniformed Allegheny County deputy sheriff appeared at McFalls' chambers to give Barbara Joseph termination letters for her and her husband. The lawsuit said she was escorted from the building, under armed guard.

Later, McFalls called James Joseph and told him, "I had to carpet bomb you because you wanted to send me to rehabilitation," the lawsuit claimed.