Legal education and experience
Cappy attended the University of Pittsburgh from 1961 to 1965. There he earned a Bachelor of Science with a degree in Psychology. From 1965 to 1968, he attended the University of Pittsburgh School of Law to earn a Juris Doctor. Additionally, he has an honorary Doctor of Laws from Widener University.
From 1968 to 1970, Cappy was a Law clerk to president judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. After that, from 1968 to 1978, he was in private practice, primarily with civil and family court litigation. From 1970 to 1975, Cappy was a trial defender, first assistant homicide attorney, and deputy director for the Office of the Public Defender of Allegheny County. From 1975 to 1978, he was the Public defender of Allegheny County. From 1978 to 1989, he was an appointed judge for the Court of Common Pleas. In 1989, he was elected to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. In 2003, he was appointed Chief Justice of Pennsylvania.
Awards and Associations
- Distinguished Alumnus Award, University of Pittsburgh School of Law
- Distinguished Laureate Alumni Award, University of Pittsburgh
- Citation of Merit by Mothers Against Drunk Driving
- Man of the Year by Pennsylvania State Police
- Man of the Year by Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police
- Pennsylvania Bar Association Judicial Award
- Gold Medal for Distinguished Service Award, Order of Sons of Italy, Grand Judge of Pennsylvania
- Man of the Year by the Sons of Italy
- Man of the Year by Italian American Heritage Foundation
- Italian American Man of the Year, Pittsburgh Italian Scholarship Fund
- Gold Medal Award as Man of the Year, Order of Sons of Italy in America
- Academy Award by the Academy of Trial Lawyers
Political Affiliation and Campaign Contributions
Democrat. In the 1989 campaign for the Supreme Court, Cappy raised $1,442,236. Lawyers and Lobbyists gave the majority of the total, with $757,154, or 52.50%. Following that, the second largest economic interest that gave to Cappy's campaign was Labor with $114,970, or 7.97%. Third, Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate gave $99,730, or 6.91%. For a complete summary of Cappy's campaign contributions, visit Follow the Money: Ralph Cappy.
Career on the Bench
Former justice calls slots-pay raise suit preposterous
Former Pennsylvania chief justice Ralph Cappy said there is no truth to a lawsuit's allegations that he negotiated a deal in which the high court upheld the state's slot-machine gambling law in exchange for legislators' approval of a judicial pay raise. The League of Women Voters filed the lawsuit against former Supreme Court Chief Justice in federal court in Harrisburg on Monday. Cappy released a statement calling the allegations by unnamed legislators "preposterous" and vowed to vigorously defend himself in court. "I do not understand why a respected organization such as the League of Women Voters would associate itself with this irresponsible lawsuit, especially since the charges consist of falsehoods, speculation and innuendo," Cappy said in the statement. The league's lawsuit said Cappy's alleged suggestion that a desired legislative action would have an impact on a pending case created an appearance of impropriety that violated its constitutional rights to due process. The league was one of the parties that filed the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the 2004 state law that legalized slot machines. Monday's lawsuit cited allegations and information provided by unnamed legislators, including one sitting senator; it does not say how the legislators knew the information or why they were not named.
The state Supreme Court rejected the central arguments of the slots lawsuit in June 2005, although it struck down three small provisions in the sprawling slots law. The justices said the parliamentary process the Legislature used in enacting the slots law passed constitutional muster. Two weeks later, the Legislature approved a substantial pay raise for judges, legislators and some executive branch officials, only to repeal it four months later under heavy public pressure. However, the state Supreme Court reinstated the portion of the law that raised judicial salaries, citing a constitutional provision meant to prevent the Legislature or governor from punishing judges for unfavorable rulings by reducing their pay. Cappy left the bench January 6, 2008 and is now at the law firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC, with an office in Pittsburgh.
As Cappy retires, a look back on his controversies
Ralph J. Cappy stepped down as chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court at the end of 2007, closing a tumultuous five-year span during which he fought for a judicial pay increase and the high court upheld the legalization of slot machines. Cappy, 64, said he is retiring six years before the mandatory retirement age for Pennsylvania judges because he wants to spend more time with his family and pursue personal interests. "It is a decision made for personal reasons and after thoughtful consideration," he said in a statement. He became a target of criticism two years ago when he successfully lobbied the Legislature to raise the pay of the state's judges, and described public opposition to the new law as "knee jerk." Critics complained that Cappy's advocacy had been carried out in secret, and that the law was passed with no prior public scrutiny. Cappy unswervingly defended the pay raise, saying it was necessary to recruit high-quality judges at a time when some newly minted lawyers make as much, or more, money. Under heavy public pressure, legislators repealed the government pay-raise law. However, Cappy's court restored the judges' raises and bred more resentment in the Legislature by outlawing the practice of "unvouchered expenses," which let legislators skirt a constitutional ban against midterm pay raises. In his statement, Cappy said the pay-raise controversy played no part in his decision to retire. Voter anger over the pay raise was credited with the first-ever defeat of a sitting Supreme Court justice, Russell M. Nigro, who lost a campaign for a second 10-year term in 2005.
Under Cappy's leadership, the Supreme Court upheld the 2004 law that legalized slot-machine gambling in Pennsylvania, despite complaints that the Legislature violated constitutional provisions designed to foil the secretive passage of bills that benefit special interests. In July, Cappy penned decisions turning away challenges to the lucrative casino licenses awarded under the slots law. Within weeks of becoming chief justice, Cappy's court moved to address a growing medical malpractice controversy by requiring attorneys to get a medical professional to certify the merit of a malpractice complaint. Cappy's court also established a system to count the number of medical malpractice cases filed. The pay raise was not Cappy's first public imbroglio as a justice. In 1992, he and another justice, Stephen A. Zappala, voted to reprimand fellow Justice Rolf Larsen for improperly contacting a judge in a pending case. Larsen countered by accusing them of misconduct. Larsen eventually was impeached by the state Senate and removed from office. A grand jury found no evidence to back up Larsen's accusations.
Judges' offices cost taxpayers $3.42 million a year
Pennsylvania taxpayers spend $3.42 million a year to house 43 appeals judges in personal offices, often at some of the swankiest addresses. "The judiciary's extravagant expenditures on office space are just one more example of the mismanagement of the public's purse in Pennsylvania," said Matt Brouillette, president of the Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative Harrisburg think tank. "This is yet another example of how we've lost sight of what it means to go into 'public service.'" Three of the 10 most-expensive offices -- occupied by Supreme Court Chief Justice Ralph Cappy and Justice Max Baer, and Superior Court Judge Debra Todd -- are in Pittsburgh's One Oxford Centre, an elite Downtown office building with tenants including high-powered law firms, the members-only Rivers Club and specialty shops hawking Rolex watches. Pennsylvania's appellate system -- its Supreme Court is the nation's oldest appeals court -- is set up as a circuit, or travelling, court with judges working out of offices near their homes rather than in a centralized, state-owned building in the capital. No such building exists in Harrisburg, although a $92 million judicial center is to be finished by 2008 to house administrative staff and the Commonwealth Court, whose judges still will maintain their personal chambers across the state. In the late 1980s and early '90s, Pennsylvania lawmakers investigated what it would cost to centralize the appeals courts and it "was astronomical," Cappy said. "It was going to cost well over $1 billion to centralize just the Supreme Court." Cappy said he believes that system is the right one. "This is probably the most reasonable way to do this," he said.
Taxpayers spent $10,512 a month for Cappy's 4,996-square-foot chambers (a law library and office space for himself and 10 employees) in One Oxford Centre, while the average market value for a top-of-the-line office that size in Pittsburgh's central business district is $9,609. It costs considerably more to provide Baer with an extra 183 square feet in the same building -- $12,515 a month for 5,179 square feet. Similar space averages $9,960 a month. Justice J. Michael Eakin spends more than $11,000 a month for 5,143 square feet in Mechanicsburg, a suburb of Harrisburg where commercial real estate professionals say office space should be considerably cheaper than in the state's two largest metropolitan areas.
Justices rule that government can intercept phone calls
Ruling on a case of government eavesdropping, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that individuals have "no reasonable expectation of privacy" when answering telephone calls made to their own home, according to a legal industry newsletter. The "Legal Intelligencer," in a story carried on the website Law.com, said that the state's high court, in a "fractured" 4-3 ruling, noted that "the methods of telephone communication widely used today" – including speakerphones and cordless phones – precluded any privacy expectations. The majority said that a person has no idea who may be listening in on the other end of the phone line and, therefore, cannot believe the information being discussed won't be revealed. "A telephone call received by or placed to another is readily subject to numerous means of intrusion at the other end of the call, all without the knowledge of the individual on the call," wrote Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Ralph Cappy for the majority. "Extension telephones and speakerphones render it impossible for one to objectively and reasonably expect that he or she will be free from intrusion. The individual cannot take steps to ensure that others are excluded from the call." At issue was a conversation that was taped as part of a drug investigation by the state's attorney general's office and the Cranberry Township Police Department, said the publication. Cappy, in his opinion, noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has said in several cases that where oral conversations are concerned, people have no justifiable expectation that a party or parties on the other end of the line will not reveal information exchanged in conversation to police. Justice Ronald Castille, along with Justice Thomas Saylor, issued concurring opinions.
Justice Stephen Zappala, the legal newsletter reported, authored one of two dissenting opinions. He was joined by Chief Justice John Flaherty. "Our right to privacy does not rise and fall with technology, but rather is grounded in our state constitution, which has afforded the right to privacy the utmost protection," Zappala wrote. Justice Russell Nigro wrote his own dissent; he was joined by Flaherty and Zappala, the Legal Intelligencer reported. But in his dissent, Zappala assailed his colleagues over what he believes is a hit against the sanctity of privacy in one's own home. "Today the majority holds that the Pennsylvania Constitution affords no protection against the government listening to, recording and reporting the details of our private telephone conversations," he wrote. "By holding that we have no expectation of privacy in the confidential messages and conversations transmitted from our telephones, it has placed the freedom of every citizen into the hands of the law enforcement authorities."
- Pennsylvania Supreme Court: Ralph Cappy
- Pennsylvania Supreme Court
- Opinion: Cappy's indefensible defense
- Former justice calls slots-pay raise suit preposterous
- Alumnus Profile
- Pennsylvania Bar gives Cappy Award
- Cappy Retires
- Follow the Money: Ralph Cappy
- Project Vote Smart
- Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney
- Cappy's Press Release on the Suit
- Court upholds prison ban on adult magazines
- ↑ Chief Justice Ralph Cappy to Join Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney
- ↑ Pennsylvania Supreme Court: Ralph Cappy
- ↑ Pennsylvania Supreme Court: Ralph Cappy
- ↑ Follow the Money: Ralph Cappy
- ↑ Cappy's Legal Problems
- ↑ Supreme Court's chief justice to retire at year's end
- ↑ Judges' offices cost taxpayers $3.42 million a year
- ↑ Government can intercept phone calls