Jun 15 2012

Shouldnt We Have the Right to Decide Whether to Change Our Constitution?

Published by under Merit Selection

An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer examines the efforts to implement a Merit Selection system in Pennsylvania.  The article highlights Justice Orie Melvin’s indictment for allegedly using her state funded staff and resources for her election campaigns and notes that this is not the first time that one of Pennsylvania’s state judges has been in trouble.

But beyond the scandals, Pennsylvania’s current judicial election system creates other big problems.  Discussing one of the biggest, former Dean of Temple University, Beasley School of Law, Professor Robert Reinstein stated,

To run, you have to be willing to raise enormous amounts of money. To think that you can have this system with all this money floating around without compromising judicial independence is equivalent to believing in the Easter Bunny.”

Why in the wake of such problems did the House Judiciary Committee decide 13-12 to table the Merit Selection bill? The article explains that trial lawyers, anti-abortion activists and others oppose Merit Selection.

A pivotal development volume pills ejaculate VolumePills occurred June 1, when the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, an anti-abortion group, informed members of the House Judiciary Committee that it opposed the measure and would weigh members’ votes when making endorsements in the next election.”

Committee chairman Ron Marsico (R., Dauphin) who initially “believed he had enough votes to release the bill from committee, said the e-mail swayed several committee members to vote to table the measure.”

This Bill would have given voters the opportunity to decide in a referendum whether to adopt a Merit Selection System for the appellate courts.  Lynn Marks, executive director at Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts observed,

‘The part that is ironic is that it is the groups that say we need to elect judges who are saying don’t

vote for this legislation.’ She added that those opponents are taking a very hard to defend position and are basically saying ‘we don’t want the people to have the right to change their constitution.’”

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Jun 11 2012

It is Time to Let the Voters Decide

An editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer highlights the fact that special interest groups that oppose Merit Selection legislation have betrayed the voters whose rights they claim to protect:

[T]he trial lawyers, unions, gun-rights advocates, and abortion foes who continue to oppose reforms that would take appellate-court judges out of partisan elections achieved their victory by denying voters the very chance to air their views.

Changing to Merit Selection requires a constitutional amendment, a long process that culminates in a referendum, a vote of the people.  In other words, only the voters can change how we select appellate court judges.

Contrast that open and democratic proposal with what happened as special-interest groups lobbied lawmakers with the apparent view that elections are the surest way to pick jurists favorable to them.

Last week, the Merit Selection legislation was tabled in a narrow procedural vote in the House Judiciary Committee; the bill never received an up-down vote and did not get an opportunity to reach the whole House.

Voters should be furious with such legislative bullying, given that the statewide reform group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts says more than nine out of 10 state residents want the chance to vote on the issue. As PMC and other supporters of merit selection — including the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, and Philadelphia Bar Association — realize, judicial elections undermine public trust in the courts because candidates raise money from lawyers and other interest groups that may appear before them.

The editorial  concludes with disbelief that the voters are not being given the opportunity to decide this issue, despite a sitting Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice having been indicted for alleged violations of campaign laws:

How anyone could defend a system of picking judges that produces corruption of the type alleged against Melvin is a mystery. Even more troubling is the fact that powerful forces in the state don’t even want to let voters make up their own minds on this critical court reform.

We agree: it is time to let the voters decide.

 

 

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Apr 16 2012

Pennsylvanians Deserve the Facts

Published by under Our Perspective

The Sunday Currents Section of the Philadelphia Inquirer

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features a letter to the editor (scroll to the bottom) from PMC. The letter responds to last week’s op-ed by Professor Chris Bonneau, which purported to be a critique of Merit Selection but which really only raised questions about retention elections.

PMC pointed out that Merit Selection brings about real results that are desired by the people: “it is beyond dispute that merit selection, by eliminating the need for judicial candidates to raise funds from litigants and lawyers who may come before them, stops the flow of campaign money from those who may later be in the courtroom to the future judges who will decide their cases.”  PMC further explained that the retention elections Prof. Bonneau criticizes are part of Pennsylvania’s current elective system: all Common Pleas and Appellate Court judges are elected for ten year terms and then may stand for retention in uncontested, nonpartisan elections every ten years thereafter until they reach the age of mandatory retirement.

The key point PMC makes is this: “Pennsylvanians. . . deserve the facts about elections and merit selection,” and they deserve the opportunity to vote in a referendum election about whether to change the constitution to implement Merit Selection for the appellate courts. PMC wants the legislature to let the people decide this question, and we want the people to have good information and facts on which to base this decision.

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Mar 05 2012

Philadelphia Papers Call for Merit Selection

Published by under Opinion

In the wake of Thursday’s House Judiciary Committee hearings on Merit Selection for the appellate courts, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News have each published editorials calling for Merit Selection.

Following a recap of the hearing and a brief discourse on local

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and state-wide judges whose conduct has been the subject of news reports and disciplinary action, the Daily News concludes:

Fixing this broken system will take time, since it would require legislation and a constitutional amendment, which itself requires a referendum.

Still, this has been an idea already debated for years. How many poster children for tainted justice do we need before we get action? That action can start with letting your state lawmaker know it’s time to get campaign money out of the courts.

The Inquirer opines that the proposed legislation would address the “twin problems with the state’s system of electing all of its judges: the corrupting influence of campaigns and fund-raising, and whether voters are adequately equipped to choose qualified candidates for the bench.”

As PMC and PMCAction pointed out during the hearing, passing the legislation will not change the way we select judges. Instead, it puts the issue to the people: changing the constitution requires a public referendum. The legislature can give the people this opportunity by passing the legislation in two successive sessions. We believe it’s time to let the people decide whether there is a better way to select our appellate court judges.

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Mar 03 2012

Inquirer On-line Poll Asks If It’s Time to Change to Merit Selection

Following today’s Philadelphia Inquirer pro-Merit Selection editorial, is an on-line SAy What Poll asking whether it’s time to change to Merit Selection. (You have to scroll to the bottom of the page). There are four options: two for yes and two for no:

Time to end the election of appellate judges in Pennsylvania?
Yes, civic, legal, business and religious groups favor reform

No, appointed judges aren’t independent, either
Yes, voters have shown they know little about candidates’ qualifications
No, appointing judges means select few get to decide

We hope you will vote YES and choose the reason that best reflects your views! It is time to let the people of Pennsylvania decide whether there is a better way to choose our judges — that is what the pending legislation will do: empower the public to make this decision.

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Jan 18 2012

Philadelphia Inquirer Calls for Merit Selection

Published by under Opinion

In an editorial today, the Philadelphia Inquirer urges the legislature to act on pending Merit Selection legislation.  Although the paper has supported Merit Selection for a long time, the impetus for the call today was the pending investigation of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin for improper use of her judicial staff for her judicial election campaigns.  The editorial first echoes PMC’s calls for Justice Orie Melvin to temporarily step down from her duties on the Court.   The editorial then explains:

The allegations alone ought to be enough to shake the public’s faith in the state’s system of electing its most powerful judges.

No matter what the outcome of the inquiry into the Orie sisters, the state judiciary would not have to weather such controversy if its top judges were chosen through a merit-based system of appointment, with voters’ concurrence through nonpartisan retention elections. . . .

With the Melvin controversy bringing renewed attention to Pennsylvania’s discredited system of electing judges, Harrisburg officials should seize the

moment and move ahead on judicial reform.

We agree, and we hope the people of Pennsylvania will be given the chance to decide for themselves whether there is a better way to select appellate court judges.

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Jan 13 2012

PMC in the News

Published by under Guest Post,Judges,News

There has been extensive news coverage of the revelation that Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin is the target of an on-going grand jury investigation about the use of government staff for election activities.  In the wake of those revelations, PMC called on the Justice to temporarily step aside from her judicial duties; PMC also urged the state Supreme Court to temporarily suspend Justice Orie Melvin if she failed to voluntarily step aside. PMC has been cited in numerous articles throughout the Commonwealth and by local radio stations.

Deputy Director Shira Goodman was quoted in The Legal Intelligencer regarding the target letter Justice Melvin received from the grand jury: “That was kind of the line for us. . . [The target letter] moved this from the realm of ‘this is kind of a sticky situation’ to ‘this is really much more serious and could undermine her ability to serve.’” Both the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Post-Gazette quoted PMC Executive Director Lynn Marks who stated that: “All citizens, including judges are presumed innocent until proven guilty, but judges and especially supreme court justices should not be permitted to judge others while under the cloud of such a serious investigation.”

Philadelphia Public Radio WHYY News Works also quoted Goodman in regards to Justice Melvin’s recusal from hearing cases involving the Allegheny County prosecutor who argued the previous criminal cases against her sisters: “We don’t think it’s enough. . . I think she would still be weighing in on very important questions that affect all Pennsylvanians from family matters to business questions to possibly the redistricting case and we don’t need a cloud. We don’t need questions about whether a judge. . . legitimately should be there or not.”

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On Thursday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette echoed PMC’s call for Justice Melvin to take a leave of absence or face suspension:

Justice Melvin simply cannot go on as if this is business as usual. While her own presumption of innocence has not changed, her continuing presence on the high court does no service to the people of Pennsylvania or the venerable institution whose reputation she is supposed to uphold. Justice Melvin has already conceded half the point by recusing herself from cases involving the Allegheny County district attorney’s office. She must go further and take a leave of absence until this black cloud is cleared. If she won’t go voluntarily while the grand jury tries to connect the all-too-prominent dots of this case, Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille should use his power to convene a four-member majority of the court to suspend her.

Harrisburg Public Radio WITF also spoke to Goodman who outlined the problems with the judicial selection process in Pennsylvania: “We have a system that treats judges like politicians. They have to get party endorsements, they have to raise money, they have to curry favor with special interest groups to be able to run and succeed in a 67 county state.”  Goodman went on to explain that the grand jury investigation demonstrates why elections are not the right way to choose our appellate judges.

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Dec 29 2011

Judicial Elections Are Not the Way

Published by under Opinion

An editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer uses the case of a Philadelphia Traffic Court as evidence of the problems inherent in electing judges.  Traffic Court Judge Willie Singletary is in trouble, and as the editorial points out, it’s not the first time.

Judge Singletary, who was already sentenced to a reprimand and probation by the Court of Judicial Discipline for violations during his campaign that included direct solicitation of contributions and seeming to promise favorable outcomes in exchange for donations, has now been escorted out of of Traffic Court following allegations that he showed naked pictures of himself to a City employee doing work related to Traffic Court.   And, before he was elected to Traffic Court, Singletary had amassed huge traffic fines ($11,500) and had his driver’s license suspended.  This history prompted the following observation by the Inquirer:

Beyond suggesting an ability to empathize with the plight of drivers in similar straits, Singletary’s resumé hardly stands as an endorsement for Pennsylvania’s system of electing judges. It’s also a condemnation of the vetting Best price on propecia process of the city’s dominant Democratic Party, to which many judicial candidates must pay fealty – and a hefty donation – for its help on Election Day.

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We’ve long known that judicial elections reward fundraising prowess, campaign skill, and other attributes that are unrelated to one’s ability to serve as a judge.  Pennsylvanians deserve a system of choosing judges that is designed to get the most qualified, fair and impartial judges on the bench.  Judicial elections are not the way.

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Nov 04 2011

Inquirer Poll: How Do you Decide Who to Vote for in Judicial Elections?

Published by under Judicial Elections

The Philadelphia Inquirer wants to know how you decide who to vote for in judicial elections.  So, they’ve created an on-line poll.  They offer four options:

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I just look at their political party.

I look at bar association ratings.

I pick the familiar-sounding name.

No clue as to any of the candidates, so not voting.

Take a minute and vote. And if you have another viagra for cheap reason that’s not listed there, let us know in the comments.

 

 

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Nov 04 2011

Inquirer: Merit Selection is the Answer

Published by under Opinion

An editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer reviews the finding of the New Politics of Judicial Elections 2009-2010 and concludes that it is time for Pennsylvania to change to Merit Selection.  Reviewing the very expensive 2009 Pennsylvania Supreme Court race and looking at the biggest sources of the campaign funding, the editorial notes, “Seeing that cascade of cash, more voters have reason to subscribe to the well-documented public perception that justice is for sale.”

The editorial cites polling data from Pennsylvanian and nationwide that demonstrates wide-spread public belief best price for 20mg cialis that campaign contributions affect judicial decision-making.  “That perception threatens to erode confidence in the state courts as places where every litigant can get a fair shake. ”

The recommended solution is Merit Selection:

With merit selection legislation pending in both the state House and Senate, and the support of five current and former governors, it’s time for Pennsylvania leaders to push forward. . . .[T]he facts on the impact of uncontrolled campaign funding, as well as majority public sentiment, are solidly behind making the switch to an appointed appellate judiciary.

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We agree: it is time for Pennsylvanians to get the chance to weigh in on whether we are using the best system to choose our appellate court judges.  We hope they will get the opportunity.

 

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