Tuesday, November 06, 2007

PA Bar Urges Voting on Tues Nov 6th

On Monday, November 5, 2007, I received an email message from Andrew F. Susko, Esq., the current President of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, addressed to attorneys, about voting in the Municipal Elections on Tuesday, November 6, 2007.

Andy reminded attorneys that this election will determine many judgeships, both local & statewide, in the Commonwealth.

Please remember to cast your vote tomorrow on election day.

In most locations, judge positions will dominate the ballot in this year's election cycle.

As you all know, the Pennsylvania Bar Association's Judicial Evaluation Commission (JEC), chaired by Chris Gillotti of Allegheny County, has issued recommendations finding each of the seven statewide judges who are up for retention election "recommended for retention":
  • Justice Thomas Saylor of the Pa Supreme Court;
  • Judges Joan Orie Melvin, John Musmanno and Correale Stevens of the PA Superior Court; and
  • Judges Bonnie Leadbetter, Bernard McGinley, and Doris Smith-Ribner of the PA Commonwealth Court.
While retention elections in the past have generally been a relatively quiet process with judges being easily retained when they have discharged their duties appropriately, this year advocacy groups have irresponsibly called for the ouster of all of the nearly 70 judges up for retention (this includes 60 trial level judges).

Judges up for retention should be considered on the basis of their entire record of judicial service and should not be rejected because of upset over a single judicial opinion.

It is vitally important that everyone remembers to vote and encourages others to consider the JEC's recommendations. The detailed recommendations can be found at [PA Vote Smart].

Please know that your participation and help can make a difference and is greatly appreciated.
This "off-year" election has assumed great importance in Pennsylvania due to the targeting by certain political groups, such as PACleanSweep, of all judges who were in office during the legislative pay raise appeal.

On the other hand, the PBA cites clear, individual tests as to why a judge should (or should not) be elected or retained, based on "Ten Criteria for Thoughtful Selection of Judges":
The Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Judicial Evaluation Commission uses the following points when evaluating judicial candidates. Voters may also use these points as their guide.

A candidate for judicial office should have:
  1. Legal ability sufficient to have earned the respect of lawyers and members of the bench
  2. Trial or other comparable experience that ensures knowledge of the Rules of Evidence and courtroom procedures
  3. A record and reputation for excellent character and integrity
  4. Financial responsibility
  5. Judicial temperament
  6. Mental and physical capacity sufficient to discharge fully the duties of judicial office
  7. A record of community involvement
  8. Administrative ability
  9. Devotion to improvement of the quality of justice
  10. Demonstrated sound judgment in one’s professional life
On its PA VoteSmart website, the PBA explains why voters should evaluate judicial candidates seeking election, and then vote accordingly:

The Pennsylvania Bar Association has created PAVoteSmart to help you make informed voting decisions. The Pennsylvania Bar Association Judicial Evaluation Commission's ratings of appellate candidates are highlighted on PAVoteSmart as well as links to other critical information about the candidates and the important functions of Pennsylvania's courts.

Take time to navigate through the site and review the information so that you can be a smart voter in the 2007 judicial elections … because you really do need to know about judges before you cast your vote. * * *

Four non-profit organizations, in the nature of a citizens' coalition, agree with the PBA's point. The organizations include:
  • Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts is a statewide, nonpartisan organization, working to ensure that Pennsylvania has fair and impartial courts that serve all Pennsylvanians. It maintains a web page about this election, entitled "2007 Judicial Elections".
  • The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy. The Pennsylvania Chapter maintains a web page about this election, entitled "Judicial Contests for Pennsylvania State Government ".
  • Common Cause/Pennsylvania is a 15,000 member non-partisan, non-profit citizens' advocacy group that works to achieve open, effective, accountable and responsive government.
  • Justice at Stake is a Washington, DC-based nonpartisan national campaign of more than 45 partners working to keep America's courts fair, impartial, and independent.
These groups issued a Press Release, dated September 25, 2007, entitled "Civic Groups Advise Pennsylvania Voters: Retention Elections Require Careful Consideration":
On November 6th, 67 Pennsylvania judges, including 7 appellate judges, will be standing for retention. These judges have completed at least one term and will face the voters in uncontested, nonpartisan elections, seeking their approval to serve another term. Voters will be asked to vote yes or no on each judge.

Although the four undersigned organizations do not support or oppose any individual judicial candidates, we urge voters to carefully consider the qualifications and records of each judge.

Lumping judges together and calling for no votes on all of them is an insult to voters seeking to make informed choices. It would be just as irresponsible to walk in uninformed about the judges and vote yes on all of them as it would be to vote no.

Voters’ decisions should be based on information, mature judgment and considered evaluation of each candidate. * * *
I have reviewed the judicial candidate's credentials on these sites. And I will vote accordingly.

Personally, I endorse "favorite sons" of Central Pennsylvania -- Justice Tom Saylor, running for retention on the PA Supreme Court, and Judge Bruce Bratton, running for a seat on the Superior Court. But that is a regional & a personal preference.
See: PA EE&F Law Blog posting, "Primary Election Selects Justice & Judge Candidates" (05/15/07).

As a voter, you, too, should review the candidates' qualifications & records, and then vote intelligently, not impulsively

Update: 11/06/07 @ 10:00 am:

After voting this morning at my local poll (Precinct 12, Lower Paxton Township, Dauphin Co., PA), I encountered the very candidate who I had mentioned in my posting above --
Bruce Bratton, candidate for Pennsylvania Superior Court! What are the odds of that happening?

In support of his candidacy, Bruce was touring various Dauphin County polling places in the company of his friend & my neighbor,
Representative Ron Marsico.

Ron is now the minority co-chair of the House Judiciary Committee -- the House Committee which recently received, by referral after introduction by Representative White, House Resolution 484, Printers No. 2753 regarding further study of powers of attorney. See: PA EE&F Law Blog posting, House Reps Propose Further POA Study (11/05/07).

As we exited Faith Presbyterian Church, each carrying warm, church-made sticky buns (baked for Democrats, just plain; for Republicans, with raisins; and for Independents, with pecans), Bruce talked hopefully about his candidacy for Superior Court.

I hope that he will be authorized by Pennsylvania voters to serve on that Court. He would be a good appellate judge, one sensitive to the Orphans' Court Division cases that will be appealed there.

Update: 11/07/07

The Pennsylvania Department of State posted results of the elections here.

Of my "favorite sons" mentioned above for appellate positions, Justice Saylor won retention on the Supreme Court, but Judge Bratton did not win a seat on the Superior Court.