Jun 05 2012

We Trust the Voters

Published by under Merit Selection News

PMC and PMCAction are disappointed to report that the House Judiciary Committee today tabled Merit Selection (H.B. 1815) on a 13-12 vote.  Instead of moving forward a bill that would give Pennsylvanians the opportunity to decide for themselves whether there is a better way to choose appellate judges, the Committee responded to pressure by special interest groups that would prefer not to let the people decide

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this issue.   Such groups clearly believe their best prospects lie in electing judges that agree with them and fear the results of a system that takes judges out of the campaign and fundraising businesses.

A 2010 pollof Pennsylvania voters revealed that 93% want the chance to vote on whether to adopt Merit Selection.  (A summary of the poll is available).  A positive vote in Committee would have moved us one step closer to letting the people vote.

It has been more than forty years since the public voted on this issue. Much has changed since then:  elections have become incredibly expensive, special interests (including some out-of-state organizations) are funding judicial campaigns, and a sitting Supreme Court justice has been indicted for alleged improper campaign activity.

It is past time for the people to be heard.  We will continue to work to bring this issue to the people so they can decide whether there is a better way.  We trust the voters to make this decision; it is unfortunate that others do not.

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Mar 05 2012

Philadelphia Papers Call for Merit Selection

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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


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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Feb 28 2012

Merit Selection Hearing on Thursday March 1

Published by under Merit Selection News

A Public Hearing on Merit Selection  (HB 1815 and 1816) will be held by the PA House

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Judiciary Committee on Thursday, March 1st from 1:30-3:30 pm, at the National Constitution Center, Kirby Auditorium, 525 Arch Street, Philadelphia.  We know from public polling that Pennsylvanians want the chance to weigh in on the question of how we choose our appellate judges.  This hearing is a critical step in the process that can culminate in the people of Pennsylvania having the opportunity to vote on whether to change how we choose appellate court judges.

Among those expected to attend are:

  • Rep. Ron Marsico (R-Lower Paxton), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee
  • Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Peach Bottom)
  • Eric A. Tilles, Esq., president of the DELVACCA chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel
  • Kathleen D. Wilkinson, chancellor-elect of the Philadelphia Bar Association
  • Representatives from Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts and PMCAction
  • K.O. Myers, Director of Research and Programs for the American Judicature Society
  • Bishop Mary Floyd Palmer, Pastor, Philadelphia Council of Clergy
  • Matthew Berg, Director of State Affairs for Justice at Stake
  • Charlotte Glauser, Judicial Specialist with the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania
  • The Honorable Phyllis W. Beck, retired judge
  • Walter M. Phillips, Jr., Esquire
  • David N. Taylor, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association
  • Michael Walker, the Urban League
  • Randy Lee, Professor of Law, Widener Law School

Please consider attending. If anyone would like to submit written comments, please contact Michael Fink as soon as possible at mfink@pahousegop.com.  Comments will be accepted until the morning of February 29th and copies will be distributed at the hearing and made part of the record.

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Nov 07 2011

State House to Consider Merit Selection Legislation

Published by under Merit Selection News

PMC and PMCAction are pleased to announce that the House Judiciary Committee will be holding a hearing on Merit Selection on November 17 from 1:30-3:30 pm in Philadelphia.  The hearing will address the pending Merit Selection legislation, H.B. 1815 and H.B. 1816.

This hearing is an important step in the constitutional amendment process, a process that culminates in a referendum election in which the people of Pennsylvania decide whether to change how we select appellate court judges.  The hearing offers a chance to begin an important dialogue about this critical issue.  We are grateful to generic cialis from india the House Judiciary Committee for providing the forum for this public discussion.

The hearing will be held at the University of Pennsylvania, Perelman Quadrangle, Cafe 58, First Floor, Irvine Auditorium.  The address is 3401 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA.


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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.

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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Sep 14 2011

General Assembly to Take Up Merit Selection

PMC and PMCAction are pleased to announce that Representative Bryan Cutler (R -Lancaster ) along with Representative Josh Shapiro (D -Montgomery), has introduced legislation that would amend the Constitution to institute a Merit Selection system for Pennsylvania’s appellate courts.

The legislation consists of two bills. The first, H.B. 1815, is a constitutional amendment. The second, H.B. 1816, is implementing legislation that sets forth a detailed explanation of how the Merit Selection system would operate.

Rep. Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin), chair of the Judiciary Committee, is planning to schedule a hearing in October.

We are pleased that this important issue is before the House, and that it again has bipartisan support.  The growing coalition supporting Merit Selection demonstrates that judicial selection reform is an issue that unites Republicans, Democrats, good government advocates, business organizations, lawyers, nonlawyers, minority groups, and all those who care about ensuring that Pennsylvania has the most qualified, fair and impartial judiciary.

We look forward to the House’s consideration of the legislation, and we hope this is only the first step in the process that will ultimately give the people of Pennsylvania the opportunity to decide whether there is a better way to select our appellate court judges.

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Apr 20 2011

Merit Selection Offers a Common Solution

An op-ed in the New York Times by Dean Erwin Chemerinsky and Professor James Sample p How Do I Make My Ex Want Me Back After I Broke Up With Her oints out the problems inherent in electing judges, focusing especially on the money problem.

Chemerinsky and Sample conclude that the most viable solution to the problem is to recognize that because judges are different, judicial elections should be different.  They urge that states impose, and the Supreme Court approve, limits on campaign contributions and spending in judicial elections (even if such limits remain unconstitutional in other elections).

We agree that judges are different and should be selected differently than other officials.  But we remain committed to wholesale change — the elimination of judicial elections (at least at the appellate level).

We are not alone in this commitment, as is evident from a letter to the editor from New York attorney Norman Greene: “Eliminating all judicial elections — and replacing them with well-designed appointment systems as are in effect in a number of courts in New York and other states — is . . . the means most likely to achieve overall judicial reform.”

Finding a better way to select judges represents the best way to solve the money problem.  But it also solves other problems inherent in elections — problems like the lack of relevant information for voters seeking to make informed decisions; the focus on political savvy and fundraising skills as opposed to qualifications to serve; the random factors like ballot position and name recognition that disproportionately affect election results; and the lack of diversity on our appellate courts.

To us, there is a common solution to these problems: Merit Selection of appellate court judges.  PMC and PMCAction will continue to work for such reform in Pennsylvania.

How Do I Make My Ex Want Me Back After I Broke Up With Her

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Dec 08 2009

Highlights of the Merit Selection Hearing

On Monday, the Courts Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the pending Merit Selection legislation.  Representative Josh Shapiro (D, Montgomery) chaired the hearing in Subcommittee Chair Don Walko’s (D, Allegheny) absence. Also attending were Minority Subcommittee Chair Tom Creighton (R, Lancaster), bill sponsor Matt Smith (D, Allegheny), Mike Vereb (R, Montgomery), Joseph Petrarca (D, Armstrong), Kathy Manderino (D, Philadelphia and Montgomery), Kate Harper (R, Montgomery), Glen Grell (R, Cumberland) and Deberah Kula (D, Fayette and Westmoreland).

The hearing was very informative.  Nearly all who testified — both those who supported the legislation and those who opposed it in some way — agreed that there are problems with the current electoral system, notably the role of money in the process.  This consensus is significant and reflects the public’s belief in the corrupting influence of money in the process.

Testifying on behalf of the legislation were PMC and PMCAction’s Bob Heim, Lynn Marks and Shira Goodman; Dave Taylor of the Pennsylvania Manufacturer’s Association; and Charlotte Glauser of the League of Women Voters of PA.  J. Whyatt Mondesire of the NAACP was scheduled to present testimony in support of Merit Selection but was unable to attend.

In the next few days, we will upload copies of the testimony presented at the hearing, but we offer a few highlights.  Bob Heim, Chair of PMC, focused on the need for reform and the importance of getting judges out of the fundraising business. He highlighted the public’s growing concern that money can influence judicial decisionmaking and called on the legislature to allow Pennsylvanians to decide whether to change the way we select appellate court judges.

Charlotte Glauser of the League of Women Voters of PA explained the League’s long standing support for Merit Selection, urging “Passage of these bills will do much to restore the public image of independence of Pennsylvania’s appellate court system.”

PMA’s Dave Taylor explained that Merit Selection would “improve the professionalism, integrity, and independence of the judicial branch of goverment.” Taylor explained:

By combining elements of elective and appointive systems for nominating our appellate court judges, Pennsylvania can uphold the professionalism of the courts and protect our jurists from the conflicts of interest that inevitably arise from political fundraising and campaigning.

Testifying in opposition were Tom Foley III of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice (formerly the Pennsylvania Association of Trial Lawyers), Professor Michael Dimino of Widener University, and Rick Bloomingdale, Secretary Treasuer of the AFL-CIO.  Professor Dimino actually endorsed a Merit Selection for the Superior and Commonwealth Courts and even for the trial level courts, but argued against Merit Selection for the Supreme Court.

Rick Bloomingdale of the AFL-CIO noted the organization’s current opposition to the legislation, but expressed a willingness to support an amended version of a Merit Selection plan. This is significant, and we are hopeful that as the Committee considers the bill, we can work with our traditional partners and with groups such as the AFL-CIO to design the best system of judicial selection for the Pennsylvania appellate courts.

In a publicly released letter to bill sponsor Matt Smith, Governor Rendell again expressed his strong support for Merit Selection:

I have said on many occasions that our system of electing appellate judges makes no sense. It is no secret that there is great concern in Pennsylvania about the role of money in judicial elections. Current law could allow judicial candidates to accept indirect contributions from lawyers and special interest groups that may eventually have to argue a case before that judicial candidate. It is no wonder that Pennsylvanians have been losing faith in our courts and our judges.

PMC and PMCAction are grateful to the House Judiciary Committee and its Subcommittee on Courts for the opportunity to present public testimony at yesterday’s hearing. We thank the bill sponsors, Representatives Smith and Will Gabig (R, Cumberland), for their leadership as well as all the representatives who attended the hearing.  We look forward to working together to achieve a better way for Pennsylvanians to select appellate court judges.

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Jun 08 2009

Merit Selection on the Agenda in Pennsylvania

In the wake of the judicial primary elections and on the same day the United States Supreme Court found that campaign contributions required a judge’s recusal, PMC and PMCAction are proud to announce that new legislation has been introduced into the Pennsylvania House and Senate to implement a Merit Selection system for the three statewide appellate courts.

We applaud  prime Senate sponsor Sen. Jane Earll, R-Erie, and cosponsor, Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Delaware and Montgomery, and House sponsors Reps. Matthew Smith, D- Allegheny, and Will Gabig, R- Cumberland, for their leadership in working to create a better system for selecting appellate judges.

As Senator Earll explained, “The public has been losing confidence in the fairness of our courts and judges, in large part because big campaign contributors often appear in court before the judges they support.  We need a system that encourages public trust and confidence in the courts. That system is merit selection.”  Representative Smith concurred, noting that “I am pleased to advocate for this key reform to our judicial selection process so that we can ensure the system is fair and reasonable.”

We are pleased that Pennsylvanians will have the opportunity to discuss how we should be selecting our appellate court judges.  This is a critical issue, and it has been a hot topic recently because of the recent elections, the nomination of Judge Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court and the anticipated decision in Caperton v. Massey. Pennsylvanians should continue to raise questions and debate the issue.  We sincerely hope that this process will result in the question being put to Pennsylvania voters in a referendum to change the constitution.

A brief summaryof the legislation can be found on our legislation page.  The text of the proposed amendment and accompanying enabling legislation are available: SENATE BILL No. 860 and HOUSE BILL No. 1621 (proposed amendment); SENATE BILL No. 861 and HOUSE BILL No. 1619 (proposed enabling legislation).

We hope to engage in a productive dialogue.

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Jan 06 2009

The People Should Decide

The Legal Intelligencer has published a commentary piece (subscription required) by PMC and PMCAction entitled “People Should Decide on Change of Judicial Selection Process.”  The piece focuses on the process required to amend the constitution to change how judges are selected.  This process requires the legislature to pass the amendment in two successive legislative sessions.  Second passage is followed by a public referendum.  That means the constitution can only be changed if the people of Pennsylvania vote for it to be changed.

We trust the people of Pennsylvania to make decisions about how to select appellate court judges:

Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts and PMCAction believe the people of Pennsylvania should have the opportunity to decide whether to change the way we select our appellate judges. It has been 40 years since the question was last put to the people, and, in those 40 years, judicial elections have changed dramatically. We believe that it’s time for Pennsylvanians to take a serious look at how appellate judges are selected and determine whether it’s working or if we need a change.

We wonder why our confidence in the public is not shared.  Many defenders of the current judicial election system claim they oppose change because they want to protect the franchise.  But this claim cannot be reconciled with their refusal to let the people vote on this critical issue.

It’s time to find a better way to select appellate court judges — a way that doesn’t rely on expensive campaigns and that reduces the influence of random and irrelevant factors like ballot position, name recognition and fundraising ability. We want the people of Pennsylvania to vote on whether or not to change the judicial selection process. We’re not afraid to hear their answer. We wonder why “defenders of the franchise” are afraid to let the people vote.

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