Former McFalls staffers each get $50,000 to settle suits

By Chris Osher
Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Former Allegheny County Judge H. Patrick McFalls Jr. has settled a pair of federal lawsuits filed by two former staffers who contended the judge fired them after they told his superiors he was abusing alcohol.

The settlement stipulates $50,000 in payments to each of the former staffers -- Barbara Joseph, who was the judge's secretary, and John Jakomas, who was his tipstaff. The payments will come from the state-funded Employee Liability Self Insurance Program.

Art Heinz, spokesman for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, on Tuesday confirmed the settlements, which were finalized in April.

"Everybody appeared to be pleased with the result," said Samuel Cordes, the lawyer who represented the former staffers.

A third lawsuit by McFalls' former law clerk, James Joseph, is pending. Joseph, who is married to Barbara Joseph, no longer is being represented by Cordes. The lawsuit alleged that McFalls called James Joseph and told him, "I had to carpet bomb you because you wanted to send me to rehabilitation."

Neither McFalls nor his lawyer, Robert Lampl, could be reached for comment.

The lawsuits had claimed McFalls conducted trials, decided cases and drove while under the influence of alcohol. It further contended that McFalls fired the staffers on Nov. 13 of 2001 after they told other judges about his alcohol abuse, a measure the staffers described as a last resort.

U.S. District Court Judge Maurice Cohill Jr. has dismissed claims the staffers filed against Allegheny County that contended the county was liable because Joseph James, administrative judge of the civil division, and President Judge Robert Kelly knew the reasons for the firings and should have prevented them.

McFalls, 60, of Shadyside, retired last year while facing 39 counts of judicial misconduct before the Court of Judicial Discipline. The misconduct charges included an allegation that McFalls had been under the influence of alcohol while performing his official duties on Common Pleas Court.

He agreed to resign rather than face a hearing on those charges. The 11-member board of the State Employees' Retirement System in January approved a disability pension that paid him $6,900 a month. He became eligible for his regular pension in June.