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House arrest for judge in case-fixing scandal

Former Municipal Court Judge Joseph J. O’Neill, who pleaded guilty in Philadelphia’s ongoing case-fixing scandal, was sentenced Wednesday to six months of house arrest for lying to federal agents.

U.S. District Judge Juan R. Sanchez also sentenced O’Neill to four years of probation concurrent with the house arrest.

On May 26, O’Neill resigned his judgeship and pleaded guilty to charges that he lied to FBI agents who were investigating special treatment he gave to a Democratic Party fund-raiser in a 2011 case.

O’Neill, 65, who served for seven years on the bench, was caught on an FBI wiretap talking with now-imprisoned Judge Joseph C. Waters Jr., who was trying to influence the outcome of a small-claims lawsuit case involving fund-raiser Samuel G. Kuttab.

“He’s a friend of mine, so if you can, take a hard look at it,” Waters said to O’Neill.

“No problem,” O’Neill said, as the FBI recorded the conversation. He quickly issued a ruling in favor of Kuttab.

On two occasions, FBI agents questioned O’Neill. He lied to them, contending that no one tried to influence the Kuttab case. Kuttab has been sentenced to six months in prison.

A series of relatives and friends, including several former Philadelphia judges, testified in favor of O’Neill, saying he was a good man and had suffered greatly by losing his judgeship.

Defense attorney Gregory J. Pagano told Sanchez that years ago O’Neill had been a mentor for him and other young lawyers.

Under state law, O’Neill, who earned $172,486 in 2015, will lose his judicial pension as a result of his guilty plea.

In addition to O’Neill and Waters, at least two other judges were picked up on FBI wiretaps and face possible discipline.

Common Pleas Court Judge Angeles Roca is scheduled to appear Thursday before a state judicial tribunal on charges that she secretly asked for Waters to help her son after the city sued him for $5,000 in unpaid taxes. He reached out to another judge.

Dawn A. Segal, the judge who ruled in favor of Roca’s son, already has faced the judicial tribunal.

The tribunal, known as the Court of Judicial Discipline, ruled that Segal violated judicial ethics through her role in the case-fixing scandal. She is seeking a reconsideration of that decision.

Neither Segal nor Roca has been charged with any crime. Both been suspended from the bench without pay pending the outcome of the disciplinary process.

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