Sep 29 2009
The Legal Intelligencer today examines (subscription required) the sources of the recently reported contributions to the election campaigns of Supreme Court candidates Jack Panella and Joan Orie Melvin. Most interesting to us is the focus on one particular contributor and the motivation for its contributions.
The article notes that most of the money reported by both campaigns in this cycle came from a single source — Committee for a Better Tomorrow, the political action committee of the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association. This worries some observers:
“I just think too much money from a single organization is not a good thing,” said Rob Byer, a former Commonwealth Court judge and head of the appellate division of Duane Morris’ trial practice group. “The problem is, how do you get people interested in contributing the money needed for judicial elections unless they have an interest in the outcome of cases?”
Mark Tanner who leads the PAC explained the rationale for the existence of the PAC and its contributions:
Tanner said the committee was formed as a way for lawyers and law firms to support candidates without the ethical quandary that comes with writing a check directly to a candidate.
“A number of lawyers have contributed to that PAC with the goal of supporting the judges we believe in,” Tanner said. “Clearly Jack Panella received more in funding, but Joan Orie Melvin received funding, too. . . .”
“Certainly Judge Panella and Judge Melvin have staked out different ground regarding complaints brought by individuals,” Tanner said. “There were certainly opinions that showed Melvin was supportive of individual rights, but on balance we found that Judge Panella was more supportive of our view on how the justice system should operate.”
Tanner’s response only served to increase Byer’s concern:
“That’s totally antithetical to a fair system of justice,” Byer said. “Such statements don’t help the candidates they’re supporting.”
Organizational support for a candidate should be based on qualifications and experience, not whether the judge is more likely to rule in favor of a group’s interests, Byer said.
Why do individuals, organizations and PAC’s give to some candidates and not others? What motivates an individual or entity to contribute to a judicial candidate? And how do the answers to these questions affect the public perception of our courts — already severely diminished and inclined to believe that “justice is for sale?”Tags: Committee for a Better Tomorrow, election, Jack Panella, Joan Orie Melvin, Legal Intelligencer, Mark Tanner, PAC, Philadelphia Trial Lawyers' Association, Rob Byer