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Archive for February, 2013

Feb 27 2013

Harsh Reality

Published by under Merit Selection

In the wake of the criminal conviction of suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, a column on offered an idea for an Orie reality show set on a Pennsylvania prison cellblock. The story is definitely surreal – three powerful sisters scheming and toiling to move up the Pennsylvania political food chain only to suffer an unceremonious fall from grace as the result of their own hubris. It’s the stuff of Greek tragedies.

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You couldn’t make up a more interesting or compelling family drama if you tried. I have to admit, even I’ve floated the idea of a Lifetime movie based on the sisters.

The more I think about it, though, the more the harsh reality of the situation sinks in. Everything that these three women have spent their entire lives working for is gone. Their reputations have been destroyed. Their careers in public service are over. Beyond their personal despair, the actions of these three women have chipped away at the already fragile foundations supporting Pennsylvania’s governmental institutions.

Maybe we turn to humor because the reality of this story is so devastatingly disheartening that we need a coping mechanism. If we pretend that it’s comical, maybe we can ignore the fact that the integrity of our judicial system has been severely shaken. When a justice of the Commonwealth’s highest court is committing crimes to get herself on the bench, we have a very serious problem.

And it’s not just Orie Melvin. Duquesne University law professor Bruce Ledewitz admitted that the Orie jury would be reluctant to convict if there was any doubt about the level of corruption occurring in the judge’s office. “They’re not going to convict on a fine line. They understand there’s a certain amount of this that probably goes on with all politicians.” When he says politicians, Ledewitz means candidates who are running for office. You know who runs for office? Every judge in the state.

Pennsylvanians have to stop joking about mediocrity and criminality as though it’s a badge of honor or a testament to the “badass” nature of the state. That attitude only enables bad behavior. And saying that “everyone does it” doesn’t make it right.

We need to stop burying our heads in the sand. It’s time to get angry! It’s time to demand change! Pennsylvanians deserve better, and we can do better. The world doesn’t need any more reality shows (or Lifetime movies, for that matter). It’s time to cut the jokes, get serious, and repair the judicial system until we have something that we can be proud of.


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Feb 22 2013

Philadelphia Daily News Agrees: Justice Orie Melvin Conviction Highlights Need for Reform

Published by under Merit Selection

Yesterday, a jury convicted Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin of six out of the seven charges that had been brought against her. The campaign corruption charges related to the misuse of court resources in her 2003 and 2009 campaigns for the Supreme Court.

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This is a dark hour for Pennsylvania. Judges are supposed to be the pillars upon which our system of laws stand – the gatekeepers of our justice, the wise and even hands in which we place our trust.

It’s time for something to change.

A Philadelphia Daily News Hathaway resigned in January following her conviction for bank fraud, or in New York, where Justice Thomas J. Spargo was convicted of attempted extortion and attempted soliciting of a bribe – happened to occur in states where judges are elected, not appointed.

The editorial also cites a Brennan Center for Justice report, which identified Michigan and Pennsylvania as the two costliest states for recent judicial elections. Justice Orie Melvin and rival candidate Jack Panella raised a combined $5.4 million during the 2009 campaign for the Supreme Court bench.

Orie Melvin’s crimes could only have happened in a system where we elect our judges. We need judges who are impartial and unbiased, and who have reached the bench because of exemplary character, knowledge, and excellence – not because they are willing to sacrifice scruple on the altar of victory.

While Merit Selection isn’t a perfect system, it takes judges out of the fundraising and campaigning business and goes a long way toward keeping politics out of our courtrooms. It’s time for judicial selection reform in Pennsylvania. We deserve better.


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Feb 20 2013

Sharp Competition in Wisconsin

Published by under Merit Selection

Wisconsin is known for cheese, but the amount of cheddar rolling into the Wisconsin Supreme Court elections is crazy. It’s no secret that the money pouring into judicial elections across the country is breaking records. The 2012 judicial election cycle marked a banner season for spending, and states with off-year elections aren’t about to buck the trend.

In the run up to the Wisconsin Supreme Court primary election, the three candidates had collected nearly $300,000 among them. That’s a lot of dough

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for a primary that was expected to turn out less than 10% of Wisconsin voters. In just over a month, incumbent Justice Patience Roggensack raised almost $200,000. Challenger Ed Fallone raised $75,000. Challenger Vince Megna lagged way behind. He didn’t raise any money in January. The Wisconsin primary took place yesterday, February 19. Mr. Megna didn’t make the cut.

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Now that we’re heading into the real deal election, things are going to get serious. This is going to be one . This is going to be one of the most important judicial elections in Wisconsin history. “’It’s going to be huge,’ says Megna of the role of money in the race. ‘This is probably the most important election [in years]. The winner controls the court. If Roggensack wins, the four-conservative majority stays in place. If she loses, the four-conservative majority is gone.’”

State Supreme Court justice is a nonpartisan position, and both Fallone and Roggensack have advertised their impartiality and eschewed political ideology. But with the political leaning of the court at stake, money will be pouring in, not to back the best candidate, but to bolster the donor’s favored ideology. The conservative group, Wisconsin Club for Growth, started airing pro-Roggensack ads before the primary to augment the candidate’s campaign.

At every level of government, the party divide seems to have gotten deeper, and the stakes of each election have gotten higher. Courts have become a political battleground. Partisan money flowing into judicial elections undermines the process and the court. Things are starting to stink…and it isn’t the cheese.


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Feb 12 2013

Legislation in Indiana, South Dakota would refine Merit Selection systems

Published by under Merit Selection News

South Dakota and Indiana may change the composition of their Merit Selection commissions in coming days,

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if legislation introduced in both states continues to move forward.

Currently, Indiana’s nominating commission comprised of the Chief Justice, 3 nonattorneys (one from each Court of Appeals district) picked by the governor, and 3 attorneys elected by the attorneys of the state. The introduced bill would restrict the governor’s picks to selections from a list compiled by the four legislative leaders (House speaker, House minority leader, President pro tempore of the the Senate, and Senate minority leader).

In South Dakota , the Judicial Qualifications Commission would be altered so that the state bar would appoint only one person, instead of its current three. These would be replaced by two members appointed by the legislature, with one person selected by the House Speaker, and one person selected by the Senate President pro tempore.

We’re interested to see how these efforts develop in Indiana and South Dakota, and are glad to see legislators taking an interest in how their judges are selected. We hope that legislators here in Pennsylvania will take a cue from their colleagues, and make judicial selection reform a priority.

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Feb 07 2013

Change Pennsylvania Needs: Merit Selection

Published by under Merit Selection

According to an article in Region’s Business (Philadelphia Edition), a recent bipartisan bill sponsored by Senator Anthony H. Williams (D-Philadelphia) and Richard Alloway (R-Franklin) seeks to end judicial elections and implement merit selection.

The proposed bill would replace elections with a commission of

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fifteen members. The commission would choose the most qualified candidates from a pool of applicants, and would then forward that list to the governor. Following Senate confirmation, the judge would take her seat with Pennsylvanian’s more comfortably assured that if they come before the bench, they will come before the most qualified judges.

This is change Pennsylvania needs.

When the courts gain more notoriety than the notorious cases they here, it becomes time Viagra Online for Viagra 100mg real change.

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Justice Orie Melvin’s ongoing trial, for example, is a direct reflection of the inherent problems of judicial election.  The election system forces judges to campaign, and to assume all of the obstacles that come with it.

Among the problems raised through campaigning, Judges are forced to seek financing through donors that may eventually come before them, giving an appearance of potential impropriety or impartiality.

But Pennsylvanians are making moves to halt these inherent problems via legislative action to implement a merit selection system of judicial selection.

Merit selection would ensure

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that the most qualified candidates take a seat at the bench, rather than those most schooled in electioneering.


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Feb 01 2013

Kansas: Move against Merit Selection passes Senate, proceeds to House

Published by under Merit Selection

The Kansas state senate has approved a proposed change to how Kansas judges are elected, according to articles published in the Topeka, Kansas Capital Journal and Wichita, Kansas Eagle.

We’ve discussed the movement in the Kansas legislature to try to abandon the Merit Selection system currently in place in the state in favor of a Federal-style appointment process where the governor has far more discretion in selecting judges.

The bill passed the senate with a 28-12 vote in favor of the constitutional amendment. Now, it moves to the House, and should it meet with success there, will be put before Kansas voters in 2014.

We are very disappointed that the Kansas legislature is taking such a backwards step. A recent poll by Justice at Stake showed that 61% of Kansas respondents opposed a constitutional amendment that would change the way their judges are selected. The legislature should be listening to their constituents, and not pushing an agenda that seems to only

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aid partisan control of the judiciary.

If this issue does come before the Kansas voters, we hope that they maintain the system of selecting fair, unbiased, and competent judges that has served them so well for so long.

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