The Dobbs Wire: Rogue judge driven off the bench

A Pittsburgh criminal court judge has finally submitted her resignation. Judge Donna Jo McDaniel’s expected exit comes after repeated rebukes by a Pennsylvania appeals court, extensive news coverage, the ire of at least one editorial board, and talk of an investigation by the state’s judicial conduct commission. First elected to the bench in 1985, McDaniel was driven from office for failing to deliver fair and impartial justice – treating individuals charged with sex offenses (and their defense counsel) terribly, imposing excessive sentences and repeatedly abusing her discretion.  McDaniel’s departure is a victory for reason and justice, even more so given the prevailing moral panic over sex offenses that makes getting a fair shake in court very difficult.  Kudos to all those who fought McDaniel’s biased rulings including the Allegheny County Public Defender, the Pennsylvania Superior Court, and to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for keeping a spotlight on McDaniel.  Details are below – news stories, a Post-Gazette editorial describing McDaniel as a “rogue judge,” a smart essay by Alexandra Stupple about “disgust” in court matters, and a compilation of headlines. Have a look!  –Bill Dobbs, The Dobbs Wire



Judge Donna Jo McDaniel


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | Nov. 28, 2018

Superior Court removes Allegheny County judge from sex offender’s resentencing


By Paula Reed Ward


The state Su­pe­rior Court, in a rare move Wed­nes­day, or­dered Al­le­gheny County Com­mon Pleas Judge Donna Jo McDaniel to be re­moved from a case, find­ing that there was “sub­stan­tial ev­i­dence” that she “demon­strated bias and per­sonal an­i­mus” against both the de­fen­dant and the pub­lic de­fender’s of­fice rep­re­sent­ing him.


The three-judge panel of the ap­pel­late court wrote a blis­ter­ing 13-page opin­ion that also or­dered that An­thony McCau­ley be sen­tenced again by a new judge. It is one of a se­ries of opin­ions by the Su­pe­rior Court dat­ing to Jan­u­ary 2017 in which Judge McDaniel has been ques­tioned for her sen­tenc­ing of sex of­fend­ers.


“The trial court’s an­i­mus and hos­til­ity to ap­pel­lant’s coun­sel and the [Al­le­gheny County] Pub­lic De­fender’s of­fice ap­pears to be deep, un­wav­er­ing and dem­on­strates an un­jus­ti­fied bias against the Pub­lic De­fender’s of­fice,” wrote Su­pe­rior Court Judge Alice Beck Dubow.  MORE:




Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | Dec. 18, 2018

Common Pleas Judge McDaniel resigns in wake of removal from sex offender cases


By Megan Guza


Excerpts:  Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Donna Jo McDaniel will step down from the bench at the end of January.  The letter, dated Dec. 13, comes in the wake of two state Superior Court rulings ordering her removed from two separate sex offender cases.


In a 13-page opinion issued Nov. 28, the court blasted McDaniel and ordered her removed from a case and that the defendant, Anthony McCauley, be sentenced for a third time. This time by a new judge. The opinion, authored by Superior Court Judge Alice Beck Dubow, asserted that McDaniel “has shown bias and personal animus” toward McCauley and the public defender’s office, which represented McCauley in trial. The opinion also noted McDaniel’s sarcasm in her opinion. “This sarcasm is disrespectful to appellant, counsel and the seriousness of the sentencing process,” the opinion stated.


Less than two weeks later, the Superior Court again removed McDaniel from a case involving sex crimes, this one involving defendant Gabino Bernal. Bernal had already been sentenced three times by McDaniel, according to court records. The opinion, issued Dec. 11, found “that (McDaniel) abused her discretion” in denying the motion for recusal and ordered he be resentenced by a new judge.


In her letter, McDaniel called it “my honor and my privilege” to serve on the bench.  McDaniel, 72, was first elected to the Court of Common Pleas in 1985. Before that, she served as a public defender and a Pittsburgh magistrate. She was the first woman to serve as president judge, a role taken over later by Judge Jeffrey Manning.  She continued: “Now I feel that the time has come for me to focus on the future of my family and on spending time with my daughters and my granddaughters.”  MORE:



Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | Dec. 2, 2018

Editorial:  Overruled once again: Judge McDaniel should face sanctions for bias


By the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial Board


Excerpts:  The state Superior Court repeatedly reminded her to hew to sentencing guidelines, but Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Donna Jo McDaniel continued meting out punishments to sex offenders as she saw fit.


Now, the appellate court has kicked her off of a case and ordered that the defendant, Anthony McCauley, be resentenced by a judge who will follow the law. That ought to be just the start. Judge McDaniel should be barred from hearing any sex crimes cases at this point, and her unprofessional conduct warrants sanctions from the state Court of Judicial Discipline.


No one likes sex offenders. They are vile. However, Judge McDaniel must impose sentences consistent with the law, not tack on extra years just for spite, deny defendants their rights, harass defense attorneys for doing their jobs or thumb her nose at the appellate judges who order her to knock it off.  Her handling of the McCauley case was so blatantly biased that the prosecution and defense both requested her removal. That’s virtually unheard of.


She is a rogue judge who has brought disrepute to a court she swore to honorably serve.  MORE:



National Lawyers Guild Review | Fall 2014

Disgust, Dehumanization, and the Courts’ Response to Sex Offender Legislation


By Alexandra Stupple


Sex offenders have been subject to unprecedented restrictions and punishment. The government’s treatment of sex offenders is a clear example of the dangers of laws derived from and upheld because of the emotion of disgust. Disgust has led to a dehumanization of this category of people, which has led to a stripping of their constitutional rights. The law’s treatment of sex offenders is a clear example of why the law should eschew employing the emotion of disgust during all proceedings. In addition, the courts’, particularly the Supreme Court’s, treatment of the other branches’ actions regarding sex offenders is illustrative of why the law needs to insist upon empirical data in support of legislation and why the courts should not always defer to the other branches’ findings.  MORE:



Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2018 headlines about Judge McDaniel:

Superior Court sends another sex offender case back for resentencing, removes Judge Donna Jo McDaniel

Allegheny County judge resigns after being removed from sex offender cases

Superior Court removes Allegheny County judge from another sex offender case

Editorial:  Overruled once again: Judge McDaniel should face sanctions for bias

Superior Court removes Allegheny County judge from sex offender’s resentencing

Allegheny County judge ordered removed by Superior Court from sex offender case recuses

Pa. Superior Court panel criticizes Pittsburgh judge as ‘defiant’

Editorial:  A judge off track: McDaniel overreaches on rulings on sex offenders

Prosecutor, defense want judge pulled from rape case




  1. Celeste Whiteford Robertson

    We are still trying to unwind the illegal damage this crazy woman inflicted on people accused of any and all “sex crimes.” Why did she want to get all the “sex cases?” Something is wrong with any judge that asks for such a thing. Donna Jo was personally vindictive and hateful toward me and my clients. She showed no respect for anyone.

    She once called me [a lawyer] “Sweetheart, this isn’t over.” I told her to never call me sweetheart. Did she think it was easy for me to call her “Your Honor?” She was not about honor, she did not deserve respect.

    Donna Jo is a despicable woman who ruined lives, insulted attorneys, demeaned defendants, hired her family for high-paying county jobs, and did anything else she could to further her own demented life goals. She should be in jail today. Personally, I never defended any client as malicious as Judge McDaniel. I wouldn’t. She has no morals, no compassion, no care for others, no professionalism.

    She used to sit at the bench and eat licorice as she sentenced dozens of men to illegal sentences. Just a horrible person in every way.

  2. Judge Donna Jo McDaniel, 72, of Allegheny County was a human trafficker, and a prostitution ring leader/operator she was getting Asian women from China to be used as escorts in her establishment called the Montour Hotel. My brother, a witness to the operation, was murdered….

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