Archive for October, 2011

Oct 31 2011

Campaign Contributions: Hot Issue In Pennsylvania Superior Court Race

Published by under Merit Selection

In the last weeks of the Pennsylvania judicial election season, campaign contributions in the Superior Court race are becoming the focus of more scrutiny.  A big donation from The Committee for a Better Tomorrow, the political action committee of the Philadelphia Trial LawyersAssociation to Democrat David Wecht is at issue.  The Allentown Morning Call reports that the political action committee contributed $300,000 to the Wecht campaign, and $25,000 to the campaign of Republican candidate canadian pharmacy generic levitra Vic Stabile.  This raises Wecht’s fundraising to more than $500,000, which overtakes the spending of each of the nine Superior Court candidates who ran in 2009.  The Republican party has issued a press release, critcizing Wecht’s acceptance of the contribution and urging him to recuse from any case involving a lawyer who contributed to the political action committee in question.

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PMC and PMCAction have long been concerned about the real and perceived influence of contributions to judicial campaigns; this concern applies to all donors and all candidates.  We know that judicial campaign contributions lead the public to believe that justice is for sale, and we therefore urge Pennsylvania to get judges out of the fundraising business once and for all. The way to do this is to stop electing appellate court judges. Merit Selection is the answer.

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Oct 27 2011

New Report Finds PA Continues to Lead the Nation in Costly Judicial Elections

Published by under Merit Selection

Today, the Justice at Stake Campaign, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics released “The New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2009-2010.”  The Report chronicles spending during the 2009-2010 judicial election cycle across the nation, and finds that Pennsylvania’s 2009 Supreme Court race was second in cost only to Michigan.  But for the 2007-2010 period, which encompassed two Supreme Court election cycles in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania remained “the nation’s costliest state for high court races.” PMC issued a press release with the Justice at Stake Campaign to highlight the Pennsylvania data.

In addition to the Report, Justice at Stake today also released national polling data revealing that 83% of voters believe that campaign contributions in uk levitra judicial elections have a “great deal” or “some” influence on judicial decisions.  This is consistent with the 2010 Pennsylvania poll (the full poll is available here) that revealed that 75% were concerned about the effects of such contributions. More and more, judicial elections are creating and perpetuating the perception that “justice is for sale.”

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The good news is the poll demonstrates public support for solving the problem by changing the way we select judges: 62% favor Merit Selection.  This mirrors the 2010 Pa. poll as well.

Merit Selection legislation is pending in the House and Senate, and it is likely that the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the legislation in the next few weeks.  We are hopeful that this will move us forward to give Pennsylvanians the opportunity to decide whether to change the way we choose appellate court judges.

 

 

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Oct 25 2011

"Thank Heavens for No Judicial Elections"

Published by under Judicial Elections

That’s the title of an editorial in the Connecticut Law Tribune.  The editorial discusses the problems inherent in judicial elections, including “the twin evils” of campaign cash and retribution for unpopular opinions. It then moves on to discuss the recent Wisconsin elections, highly politicized, expensive and divisive.  The editorial notes that the role of judges is different, and that the way we choose them should reflect that:

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The ultimate power of the judiciary comes from the respect the public has when it feels that the judiciary’s decisions are those of an independent, 25mg viagra unbiased institution and that such an institution is more suited than the public itself to decide questions of law and fact. A judicial election that becomes a proxy for resolution of a political dispute is no way to instill public confidence in the independence and objectivity of the judiciary.

This makes sense to us.

The editorial expresses pride and relief that Connecticut does not use judicial elections.  It seems a lesson worthy of study for Pennsylvania.

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Oct 21 2011

Judicial Election Update

Published by under News

The contestants for the vacant Commonwealth Court judgeship, Republican Anne Covey and Democrat Kathryn Boockvar, met in a forum at the Widener School of Law on Thursday to discuss their candidacies and why they each should be the voters’ preferred choice.

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Labor law and regulation of the workplace were discussed, as well as the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose conviction for the 1981 killing of a Philadelphia police officer remains controversial.

Harrisburg Patriot-News coverage of the Commonwealth candidate forum can be read here. A repeat of the forum will air on PCN-TV at 2:00 pm on Sunday.

Last week, the Superior Court candidates, Democrat David Wecht and Republic Vic Stabile, met in a similar forum. A major discussion point was a pledge that Wecht asked Stabile to make, which would require both candidates to denounce third-party interest group advertisements.

The Pennsylvania Bar association has released ratings for judges seeking retention or individuals looking to win vacant seats in the upcoming November 8 elections. The candidates are rated as follows:

 

Retention Elections:
Supreme Court:

  • Justice J. Michael Eakin – Recommended for Retention

Superior Court:

  • Judge Viagra 50 mg John T. Bender – Recommended for Retention
  • Judge Mary Jane Bowes – Recommended for Retention

Commonwealth Court:

  • Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer – Recommended for Retention
  • Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt – Recommended for Retention
  • Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr. – Recommended for Retention

Vacancy Elections:
Superior Court of Pennsylvania:

  • Victor P. Stabile, Dauphin County – Recommended
  • Judge David N. Wecht, Allegheny County – Highly Recommended

Commonwealth Court of Philadelphia

  • Kathryn Boockvar, Bucks County – Recommended
  • Anne E. Covey, Bucks County – Recommended

 

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Oct 17 2011

The contenders in the approaching judicial elections, and the need for independence

An article in the Allentown Morning Call outlines the candidates in the upcoming Pennsylvania appellate judicial elections, and how each is vying for voter attention.

The article supplies some resources for voters to learn more about each candidate’s qualifications, including the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Judicial Evaluation Commission, which is a “group of lawyers and non-lawyers who investigate, interview and rate statewide judicial candidates and appeals court judges seeking retention for another term.”

Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts Executive Director Lynn Marks is quoted in the article, noting that “People don’t think about the courts. It’s often called the least understood branch.” Marks points out that “it’s important for people to know what [judicial candidates] have done. What kind of choices they have made? What in their background prepares them for service as a judge?”

Judicial independence has taken center stage in the news recently, and the people of Pennsylvania may, as a consequence, be turning a keener eye to the qualifications and backgrounds of those who would be judges.  In particular, the issue of third-party financial influence in judicial elections has garnered a great deal of attention.

In a judicial forum held last Friday evening between the Republican and Democratic candidates for the Superior Court, both candidates were given the opportunity to ask the other a question. David Wecht, the Democratic candidate, chose to give air time to the continuing issue of money in politics, asking Republican Vic Stabile if he would sign a pledge denouncing third-party interest group advertisements.

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Stabile declined, first stating that he was not about to sign a paper he’d never seen before, then citing First Amendment concerns – though stressing that should any advertisement arise that “is not fair, is not legitimate, [or] hits below the belt,” that he would “be the first person standing up denouncing it,” regardless of whether he had signed a pledge, according to Harrisburg Patriot-News coverage of the event.

Still, the exchange Friday between the two candidate underscores the growing awareness of the influence money can have in judicial politics, where one expects – or should be able to expect – the greatest degree of impartiality.

Some amount of accountability should be placed on the candidates for how third parties contribute to their campaigns, even if only in the form of a pledge to denounce wrongdoing. However, such a measure is still only remedial to the real problem – that special interest dollars and partisan politics occlude the actual merits and qualifications of candidates, and cause justice itself to be at grave risk of being purchased by those with the deepest pockets.

Rather than have candidates merely pledge to denounce the appearance of third party wrongdoing after the fact, Pennsylvania should be allowed to have a system of judicial selection that precludes it altogether.

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This issue is clearly on the minds of candidates, and can also be expected to be in the minds of voters in the upcoming elections.

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Oct 17 2011

Why Are We Still Electing Judges?

This is the question our friends at What About Clients ask today.  In a nutshell, JD Hull explains that judicial elections:

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send bad-smelling messages to all clients, all Americans, and the entire world about the nature of justice in America: (1) Judges have “constituents”; and (2) Justice here is “for sale”.

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Well, put.  Thanks for breaking this issue down to the key point:  judicial elections are bad for all of us.

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Oct 11 2011

Proctor and Gamble discloses $40,000 contribution

According to a cincinati.com article, Proctor and Gamble has now disclosed that it has given $40,000 in donations to a political group that backs two Ohio Supreme Court Candidates, despite statements the corporation had previously made that corporate funds are not used to support electioneering.

Proctor and Gamble told shareholders in an August proxy statement that “corporate funds are not used in support of or in opposition to political candidates, political parties, political committees and other political entities organized and operating for political candidates.” However, in 2010, the company donated to a group called Partnership for Ohio’s Future, which supported incumbent Republican Judges Maureen O’Connor and Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, both running for reelection to the Ohio Supreme Court.

But on Thursday, the article continues, the company issued an addendum to its August statement, clarifying, “While this is our general policy even at the state or local level, we have occasionally permitted, based on exceptions approved by our Public Policy Team, contributions to groups that may use the funds to influence state or local elections for office.”

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When corporations funnel money into judicial campaigns to further the candidacy of a specific judge – even if only in “approved” circumstances they perceive to be “exceptions” – questions are necessarily raised concerning that judge’s ability to be truly impartial when hearing cases in which his or her patron corporations are named or are interested parties. While stronger regulations mandating recusals help, as one area group, Ohio Citizen Action, is calling for, the judiciary and people of Ohio would be best served by a judicial selection system that sidesteps altogether the influence of money in politics.

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Oct 07 2011

Break the Link Between Judges and Campaign Cash

A Philadelphia Inquirer editorial criticizing the recent “request” by the Philadelphia Democratic Party for $10,000 contributions from judges standing for retention this year, strongly condemns the electoral system.  “By approaching sitting judges for campaign contributions, party officials are engaging in what the state’s longtime court-reform group, Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, calls “a prime example of how money and politics pollute the process of electing judges.”  The editorial specifically attacks the way the electoral system essentially requires fundraising from those most likely to appear in court, noting that it creates “at the least, an impression among the public that justice is for sale.”

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The editorial closes with the hope that instances like this will further spur the move for reform: “the whole breakfast episode should at least help motivate some state lawmakers – their efforts supported by Gov. Corbett – who are pushing for the merit-based appointment of appellate-court judges as a first step in breaking the link between judges and campaign cash.”  We hope this prediction proves accurate and that Pennsylvanians will soon have the opportunity to decide whether they want to change the way we select appellate court judges.

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Oct 05 2011

PMC and Justice At Stake Weigh in on Philadelphia Retention Controversy

In a letter published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, PMC and Justice At Stake argue that when political parties demand “contributions” from sitting judges for support in retention elections, the whole purpose of retention elections has been undermined.  The letter responds to a report that the Philadelphia Democratic Party has requested $10,000 “contributions” from judges standing for retention in exchange for support on election day.

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PMC and Justice At Stake explain that retention elections are yes/no, uncontested and nonpartisan and serve to let the public determine whether a judge should remain on the bench.  PMC and Justice at Stake urge that we are all responsible for returning retention elections to their original purpose: “Lawyers, bar associations, civic groups, and those who care about good government and fair courts — including the media — must ensure that retention elections are what they were intended to be: a referendum on the judge’s performance on the bench, not another political contest.”

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The letter closes with this strong statement about why we need reform:  “The [Democratic] party’s greedy ‘request’ is a reminder that judges shouldn’t be elected in the first place.  Judges and money should not mix. Politics should stay out of the courtroom.”

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Oct 03 2011

Daily News in support of Merit Selection: “Money and politics don’t belong near the bench”

On the heels of the recent news that the Democratic Party requested $10,000 donations from each of 27 judges in order to guarantee party support in the upcoming retention elections, the pitfalls inherent in electing judges have come into sharp relief, and the need for a different system of judicial selection has become even more pressing.

In an editorial published today, the Philadelphia Daily News criticizes the role of money and political parties in the election of judges and comes out in strong support of Merit Selection.

The Daily News editorial, with tongue firmly in cheek, says that, “we can all sleep like babies knowing that the judicial system is in the good and wise hands of the party machine, in which the size of a judge’s bank account is the only thing that matters in giving him or her support.”

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“The only thing that can keep us from complete despair is the fact that the move for merit selection of judges actually seems to be making some progress in Harrisburg,” the editorial continues, noting the advocacy efforts of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts and outlining the recent legislation introduced in the Pennsylvania House.

“Money and politics don’t belong near the bench,” the editorial concludes. “Only six states continue to use partisan elections for judicial selection; Pennsylvania shouldn’t be one of them.”

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We completely agree. The selection of judges in our state should be as free as possible from the influence of partisan politics, and we hope that this recent party-sponsored shakedown and the negative publicity it has garnered galvanize both legislators and voters alike to action.

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