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Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas judge accused of misconduct in courtroom

Judge Thomas A. Placey is accused of losing his temper and berating witnesses and attorneys on multiple occasions by the Judicial Conduct Board

CUMBERLAND COUNTY, Pa. — A Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas judge has been charged with violating the Code of Judicial Conduct and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by the Judicial Conduct Board, records show.

Judge Thomas A. Placey has served at his position since 2012, according to the judicial complaint against him. His case will be heard in front of the Court of Judicial Discipline, the complaint says.

Placey is charged with 18 counts of judicial misconduct, according to the complaint, which cites four examples of his conduct in court cases and one interaction with an attorney outside court in which he allegedly lost his temper and screamed. 

The cases cited in the charging documents are:

  • Samento v. Samento, Oct. 5, 2017: Placey allegedly berated a witness, telling the witness to leave the stand by saying "move it like you have a purpose." Placey allegedly leaned over the witness stand from the bench, berated the witness again, and threatened to rule summarily against the witness if the witness interrupted him again. Placey then allegedly left the courtroom. His voice during parts of the exchange was described as "extremely loud" and his tone "angry," the charges state. The Pennsylvania Superior Court, on appeal, later vacated Placey's decision in the case, noting that the transcript of the original hearing was "disconcerting," the charges say.
  • Commonwealth v. Moore, Jan. 15, 2019: At a public sentencing hearing in the case against D'Andre Moore, Placey allegedly got into a testy exchange with an assistant district attorney over a written restitution request included in the case file. After allegedly berating the ADA, Placey ordered her from the courtroom before abruptly leaving himself, the charges state. When the ADA was still present when he returned, Placey allegedly ordered her out again. A review of the audio transcript of the hearing by the Judicial Board described Placey's tone as "extremely loud and angry." A newspaper article cited in the charging documents described the exchange as an "explosion" on Placey's part, the charges state.
  • Gnazzo v. Gnazzo, August 8, 2018: While presiding over a custody proceeding, Placey allegedly snapped at an attorney during cross-examination of a witness, throwing his glasses on his desk and knocking over a cup. He then allegedly left the bench. His tone again is described as extremely loud and angry in charging documents.
  • Wingard v. Wingard, Oct. 3, 2018: In a custody hearing, a witness expressed confusion during questioning, allegedly prompting Placey to berate the witness' attorney for not adequately preparing the witness. Placey then allegedly said he "had other things to do" and left the courtroom, the charges state. When he returned a few minutes later, he allegedly told both parents in the custody case that if he ordered something and it didn't get done, "you see my temperment." He also allegedly told them if they were unprepared when on the witness stand, "you're going to get chewed up and spat out by me," the charges say. 

The charges also said Placey berated an attorney in a conference room outside court after the attorney refused to "cover" a criminal proceeding in Placey's courtroom because he was unfamiliar with the case. Placey allegedly took the attorney into a conference room, dismissed the others present, and berated the attorney loud enough that his voice could be heard outside the room, the charges say.