HARRISBURG — A special court that disciplines Pennsylvania judges who misbehave on Thursday ordered a written reprimand for an Erie district judge who waved a handgun at another motorist in a road-rage incident five years ago.
The state Court of Judicial Discipline, under orders from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to sanction Judge Thomas Carney, unanimously approved the penalty following an hourlong hearing. A reprimand is among the least severe of available sanctions that include suspension and removal from office.
Judge Charles Clement, a Camp Hill district judge who presides over the disciplinary panel, said he would write the reprimand within two weeks.
Carney, 60, who was accompanied to court by at least two longtime friends who testified that he is honest and fair, was relieved by the decision.
“I’m glad it’s behind me,” said Carney, who is serving his second six-year term.
David Ridge, Carney’s lawyer, emphasized his client’s good reputation by noting that no one challenged his election to a second six-year term as judge in 2011, even though he was embroiled in the gun controversy at the time.
That was the year the disciplinary panel acquitted Carney of misconduct in connection with the 2009 encounter, in which he held his gun outside his car window after exchanging obscene gestures with another driver while traveling along Interstate 79.
The Supreme Court overturned the ruling in October, saying Carney’s behavior brought his office into disrepute, and remanded the case to the disciplinary court to impose sanctions that range from a reprimand to removal from the office, which carries an $86,899 salary.
Carney was driving home to Erie after attending a Pittsburgh Steelers game when the encounter happened, court papers say. After the two drivers exchanged angry gestures, Carney pulled alongside the two college students in the other vehicle and held up his gun with his index finger and thumb for a few seconds. The other driver backed off and slowed down.
The disciplinary court found that Carney displayed his gun, for which he had a license, in “an effort to defuse the situation.” But the Supreme Court said it was Carney who had initiated the dispute by passing the other car while making an obscene gesture with his middle finger.
“There is no indication why (Carney) did not simply slow down and let the other car pass instead of choosing to retrieve and brandish a gun as a way to de-escalate the situation,” Chief Justice Ronald Castille wrote in a 31-page opinion.
State police charged Carney with misdemeanor counts that included making terroristic threats and recklessly endangering another person. He pleaded guilty in 2009 to two summary counts of disorderly conduct and paid a $541 fine, according to court papers.