For nearly 30 years, PMC has worked tirelessly to make our commonwealth a better place for all Pennsylvanians. We have made significant impacts on pressing judicial issues and are continuously expanding our work to address critical new issues.
We are incredibly pleased to inform you that, after decades of perseverance, we have made substantial progress on merit selection in the Legislature. All filed amendments to our legislation, House Bill 111, were considered by floor vote, and the amended bill, which we support, will be voted on by the full House this month.
We have been building momentum simultaneously in the Senate, so that the bill can be approved there, too, before the end of this legislative session.
At this critical time, we ask that you urge your representatives to vote YES on House Bill 111.
Thank you for your support.
PMC, Beasley School of Law and Klein College of Media and Communication to Hold One Day Law School for Journalists
The challenge of reporting on the legal system without a law degree can be daunting. To help support journalists who cover the courts, Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, Temple University Beasley School of Law, and Klein College of Media and Communication have developed a one-day intensive program on the court system geared toward journalists and others in the media who have little experience covering the courts or who want to be sure they are on top of all the current issues.
Presenters include Maida Milone (President & CEO, Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts); Judge C. Darnell Jones II (United States District Judge, Eastern District of Pennsylvania); Jules Epstein (Professor of Law and Director of Advocacy Programs, Temple University Beasley School of Law); Mary E. Levy (Practice Professor of Law, Temple University Beasley School of Law), Eli Segal (partner, Pepper Hamilton LLP) and Jim Neff (Deputy Managing Editor, Philadelphia Media Network). Professor Scott Burris, Director of the Center for Public Health Law Research at Temple University Beasley School of Law, and Silvana Mazzella, Associate Executive Director of Prevention Point Philadelphia, will participate in a panel discussion over lunch. Additional panelists may join the discussion as well.
The event is free, but registration is required. To register, click here.
The independence of the judiciary is an important pillar in any democracy. But throughout history it has also proven to be a fragile one, and there continue to be many examples of that fragility in the United States and throughout the globe.
In the U.S., the courts’ unique role has come under attack on many occasions, despite the constitutional protections designed to ensure that courts are accountable to the law and free from interference by the executive and legislative branches.
A judiciary free from interference has not always been the case. In the 1850s, abolitionists threatened to ignore court orders upholding slavery, just as in the 1950s segregationists tried the same tactic against the Brown v. Board of Education decision. In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, frustrated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of his New Deal legislation, tried to “pack” the court in his favor by proposing to increase the court to 15 members. More recently, in Iowa, three state supreme court judges were voted out in highly politicized retention elections in 2010 after they voted to allow same-sex marriage. Today, many of our politicians have used their unhappiness over specific judicial rulings by personally attacking the jurists responsible for them.
Trust in our court system has also been undermined by judicial elections plagued with partisan and often-misleading information about the candidates because of the increase in special-interest financial contributions in the races.
Click here to read the full story at ABA Journal.
Pennsylvania's appellate judges should be selected on merit, not by political party and not by geography
The LNP Editorial Board
Pennsylvania Sen. Ryan Aument, of Landisville, wants appellate judges in the state Supreme, Superior and Commonwealth courts to run for their seats in specific regions rather than in statewide races. His proposal would see the state carved into seven “judicial districts,” each “as nearly equal in population as practicable.” Aument told LNP’s Sam Janesch that the change would “diversify” the courts by electing more judges from outside the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas. “It’s important in ensuring that all Pennsylvanians are represented on our courts,” Aument said.
In our experience, Aument has been an effective and reform-minded lawmaker in a state Capitol that badly needs effectiveness and reform.
But he’s lost us on his latest proposal.
Click here to read the full story at Lancaster Online.
Advocates fighting to end cash bail in Philadelphia will add a new tool to their arsenal this weekend.
On Saturday, two local criminal justice nonprofits, the Philadelphia Bail Fund and Pennsylvania for Modern Courts, are launching a program to organize and train members of the public to monitor municipal bail hearings.
Click here to read the full story at Billy Penn.
Philadelphia Bail Fund and Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts co-launch bail court watch program to create greater public awareness
Wednesday, April 18, 2018 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Philadelphia Bail Fund, email@example.com, 267-961-3391
Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, firstname.lastname@example.org, 215-569-1150
PHILADELPHIA– The Philadelphia Bail Fund and Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts today jointly launched Philadelphia Bail Watch(TM), a community-based court watch program created to monitor preliminary arraignments – also known as bail hearings – in Philadelphia’s Municipal Court. The joint project aims to increase public awareness of bail proceedings and their impact on pretrial detention and bail policy.
“Every day in Philadelphia, in hearings that often last no more than 90 seconds, bail commissioners decide whether or not a person remains free while awaiting trial. For people who cannot afford their cash bail - even a few hundred dollars - they must choose to either plead guilty or sit in jail for weeks, months, or years without ever being convicted of a crime. This is a false choice,” said Malik Neal, Vice President of the Philadelphia Bail Fund, an organization which advocates for the end of cash bail in Philadelphia. “We developed Philadelphia Bail Watch with Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts because we believe there is a need to shine light on the current preliminary arraignment process, where money bail decisions are rapidly made and, ultimately, people’s access to freedom pretrial is determined,” he continued.
The program will hold its first official court watch on Saturday, April 21, 2018 with a group of volunteers observing preliminary arraignment hearings at the Criminal Justice Center, 1301 Filbert St., Philadelphia. Court watchers will take note when prosecutors request bail, and collect such information as criminal charges, bail amounts, and general impressions and anecdotes. The group plans to share its preliminary findings through updates on its website every two weeks and with a findings report to be released in the summer of 2018.
Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts is a respected Pennsylvania organization with a history of educating the public about the judiciary and court-related issues. Maida Milone, President and CEO of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts believes the Bail Watch program is a natural outgrowth of PMC Watches(™), the organization’s volunteer court monitoring program. “Through Philadelphia Bail Watch, we hope to encourage community members to witness the preliminary arraignment process themselves and learn about what is happening in our courts. Community participation and engagement in our justice system is integral to making it more fair, equitable and, ultimately, just,” concluded Ms. Milone.
“Through a number of informal observations, Philadelphia Bail Fund has noticed troubling issues in the preliminary arraignment process. For example, defendants do not appear in person before the magistrate for preliminary arraignment hearings and, rather, are ‘present’ through the use of live video conferencing technology. Also, defendants have no opportunity to speak privately with a public defender before or during their hearings. As a result of these and other important concerns, we determined the need for a more formal means of observing proceedings and engaging the public in our project,” said Zoe Goldberg, Philadelphia Bail Watch Coordinator and volunteer with the Philadelphia Bail Fund.
Philadelphia Bail Watch comes in the wake of District Attorney Larry Krasner’s announcement that his office will no longer seek cash bail for certain, low-level offenses. “Krasner’s new policy marks an important step towards ensuring our city’s pre-trial system is more just and fair,” said Cal Barnett-Mayotte, Philadelphia Bail Watch Coordinator and volunteer with the Philadelphia Bail Fund, “but, as concerned citizens, it is our job to make sure these policies are achieving their intended goal and advocate for broader reform of our cash bail system.”
“Decisions made in preliminary arraignments can severely disrupt people’s lives, pushing individuals further into a cycle of poverty and unemployment ,” said Regina Paparo, Program Director at Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts and an AmeriCorps VISTA. “This watchdog program has the potential not only to serve an educational function but also to ensure a robustly accountable court system.”
Philadelphia Bail Watch will host trainings for interested court watchers and attend preliminary arraignment hearings. The first training will be held Saturday, April 28, 2018 beginning at 2:30 p.m. Participation in Philadelphia Bail Watch trainings is free, but registration is required due to space
limitations. People interested in participating in a Philadelphia Bail Watch training should sign up online at www.phillybailfund.org/bailwatch or text 267-961-3391 indicating their availability. Preliminary arraignment hearings are open to the public and take place multiple times a day, seven days a week, in the Criminal Justice Center, 1301 Filbert St., Philadelphia PA 19107.
About the Philadelphia Bail Fund:
The Philadelphia Bail Fund is a 501(c)(3) charitable bail organization that was founded in May 2017. The Fund prevents unnecessary pretrial detention by paying bail for Philadelphians who cannot afford their own bail and advocates for the end of cash bail in Philadelphia. The goal of the Philadelphia Bail Fund is to shift Philadelphia’s bail system from one that is based on wealth to a fairer and more effective system based on a presumption of release before trial, except in the most exceptional circumstances.
About Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts:
Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts was founded in 1988 and is the only statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to ensuring that all Pennsylvanians can come to court with confidence that they will be heard by qualified, fair, and impartial judges. A key tenet of PMC’s work is to engage and educate Pennsylvanians to foster a better understanding of local courts, and their place in the judicial system.
In a matter of a just a few weeks, the lawsuit filed by the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters charging that the state's Congressional districts were gerrymandered by Republicans has turned into an all-out political showdown that involves the legislature, the governor, state and federal courts and now the U.S. Supreme Court.
Will this latest controversy be the impetus for a move to appoint judges rather than elect them?
The non-partisan group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts has long advocated for change. The group's President and CEO Maida Milone is on Tuesday's Smart Talk to explain why.
Listen to the story on WITF.
State Supreme Court justices, who recently found that the state’s ruthlessly gerrymandered map of congressional districts violated the state constitution, clearly ruled in the public interest by ordering fairly draw districts.
But, this being Pennsylvania, their decision highlighted the need for even further reform — regarding the appellate courts themselves.
After the gerrymandering decision, legislative Republicans asked the Supreme Court of the United States to stay or strike the state Supreme Court decision, which Justice Samuel B. Alito Jr. rejected.
The legislative defendants also complained to the state Supreme Court on a matter that pointed yet again to why Pennsylvania should stop electing appellate court judges and establish a system of merit selection and gubernatorial appointment.
Read the full article at the Citizens' Voice.
Paul Muschick of the Morning Call recently made the case that state judges should repeatedly face competitive, partisan elections. We disagreed with Paul when he interviewed us, but we want to be absolutely clear: more frequent, competitive judicial elections would do incredible damage to our judiciary.
When we elect representatives and executives, we send them to Harrisburg with an agenda, and they’re expected to fight for that agenda. If the voters change their minds, they elect someone else the next time around.
Judges, on the other hand, aren’t supposed to be fighters or partisans. They should be qualified, even-tempered, impartial, and principled. When the winds of public opinion blow strong, the judiciary remains stable and protects us from tyranny.
Holding regular, competitive elections for judges would erode that protection, compromising the stability and independence of the judiciary and fundamentally tarnishing the objectivity of their office.
This isn’t a hypothetical problem. Our system is already being hurt by partisan judicial elections.
Our state-level judges run as Democrats and Republicans, beholden to party politics, and they need to raise a lot of money if they want to win. How can we be expected to trust our judges after that? We will always have to wonder if their rulings are made to please their partisan colleagues in the House and the Governor’s office. We will always wonder if they were paid off by the right people in the form of campaign contributions.
Furthermore, this would create a heated perpetual battle for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Reports by the Brennan Center already show that more money is being spent on state Supreme Court elections than ever before, but imagine the constant campaigning and massive sums of money if every seats on the court were always up for grabs.
That’s why we’re proud to stand with the League of Women Voters and the Pennsylvania Bar Association in calling for merit selection. A bipartisan commission nominates a list of candidates to the Governor, the Governor chooses candidates from that list, the legislature approves or disapproves them. The public votes on the judges selected in retention elections every six years. It’s a set of checks and balances that the Founding Fathers would approve of.
Constant competitive judicial elections would do serious harm to the Commonwealth. More than ever, we need a judiciary that doesn’t shift with the breeze. In times of political turbulence, the judiciary stands firm. If you share our concerns, we encourage you to call your representatives and ask them to support merit selection.
What you'll find
PMC press releases, statements, and news coverage of our work, in addition to the latest news on Pennsylvania's courts, judicial elections, ethics, discipline and more.
Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts is a statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to ensuring that all Pennsylvanians can come to our courts with confidence that they will be heard by qualified, fair, and impartial judges
1500 John F. Kennedy Blvd., 2 Penn Center, Suite 1140, Philadelphia, PA 19102