Kathleen G. Kane - Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General - Protecting Pennsylvanians

May 22, 2014

Attorney General Kane: Former Philadelphia judge charged with theft, conflict of interest

HARRISBURG - For more than 10 years, former Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Willis W. Berry Jr., 72, 1535 Girard Ave., Philadelphia, allegedly improperly used his judicial office and taxpayer-funded resources to assist his personal property management business on a daily basis.

Today, Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane announced Berry has been arrested and faces corruption charges including one count of theft of services and one count of conflict of interest, both felonies.  5-22-14 Willis Berry

According to the criminal complaint, Berry directed his judicial secretary to assist him in the daily operations of his private rental property business, while the taxpayers were paying her to perform judicial duties. During his tenure as a judge, Berry owned and managed up to 16 different properties, including several multi-unit rental properties. The total value for allegedly diverting his secretary's salary for Berry's personal gain is estimated to be at least $110,880 over the 10-year period.

The allegations of misusing his office were first brought to light in a complaint filed by the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board on Dec. 17, 2007. The case was referred to the Office of Attorney General (OAG) in July 2013, after which OAG conducted an investigation independent of the findings of the Judicial Conduct Board and filed charges therefrom.

OAG's investigation found that from January 1997 through April 2007, Berry allegedly used his judicial office and taxpayer resources, including, but not limited to his paid secretary to assist him in the day-to-day operations of his rental properties.

Berry allegedly directed his secretary to perform a variety of duties during official time for his personal business, including maintaining records; managing with prospective and current residents by phone and in-person at the Criminal Justice Center; preparing and filing legal documents including leases and eviction complaints; appearing at landlord/tenant proceedings; marketing the properties; and doing other financial work, including paying bills and making bank deposits.

Berry's secretary indicated that all of the aforementioned activities were performed at the Judge's instruction and were considered part of her job.

Berry turned himself in this morning and is expected to be arraigned later today. Bail and preliminary hearing information will be provided when available.

The case will be prosecuted in Philadelphia County by Deputy Attorney General Daniel J. Dye of the Office of Attorney General's Criminal Prosecutions Section.

# # #