How many more disgraces can the courts in the city and state take? Bad enough that three Supreme Court justices have left in a cloud of scandal in the last few years, or that Philadelphia’s Traffic Court was so troubled that it had to be abolished. All of these have added fuel to the argument for selecting judges based on merit, not on skill in getting votes. The latest argument comes from Family Court in Philadelphia, where defendants say Judge Lyris Younge won’t even let parents explain why they should have custody of their own children.
Instead of letting a mother testify why she should keep her child, Younge ordered the mother to be handcuffed and held until all of the mother’s five children could be put into protective custody in September. Earlier this month, an appeals court judge overturned that decision and reunited the mother with her children. It was the latest reversal of an opinion by Younge which caught the attention of the Judicial Conduct Board, according to the Legal Intelligencer.
Younge won election to the bench in 2015 despite receiving a “not recommended” rating from the Philadelphia Bar Association. She was endorsed by the Democratic machine, which is adept at electing judges in low-information, low-turnout races.
In recent years, voters also elected three judges to the Supreme Court who left in disgrace. Justice Joan Orie Melvin was convicted in 2013 on charges she used staff to work on her political campaigns. Justice Seamus McCaffery took an early retirement in 2014 and Justice J. Michael Eakin resigned in 2016, both as a result of their distribution of pornographic emails.
The state’s judiciary has a problematic history in part because the system of electing judges rewards political skill over judicial talent. Arguments for merit selection of judges rather than elections have been on the table for more than two decades. Finally, a bill to professionalize selection could be voted on in the House before the legislature’s summer recess. It would create a bipartisan commission to recommend judges to the Supreme, Superior, and Commonwealth Courts. The commission would vet the judges, looking at their conduct, careers, temperament, and fitness, and then recommend them to the governor for appointment. Gov. Wolf is generally supportive of merit selection but is researching recent amendments to the current bill. He rightly says the bill should cover all judges, including municipal, district and county judges.
Meanwhile, the judiciary itself should take a more activist role in disciplining its peers. Supervisory judges can and should reassign judges who are the targets of numerous complaints.
Click here to read more at the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Citing a litigious past and public statements by her attorney, the legal team for rapper Meek Mill spent nearly an hour outlining why Philadelphia Judge Genece Brinkley should be disqualified from handling the embattled hip-hop star’s ongoing criminal appeal. But the supervising judge of Philadelphia’s criminal courts ultimately denied the request Wednesday afternoon, entering an order saying he does not have jurisdiction to reassign the case.
Judge Leon Tucker held a nearly hour-long hearing Wednesday morning into whether Brinkley can and should be transferred from Mill’s appeal. Brinkley, who has been handling Mill’s criminal case for nearly a decade, has come under fire over the past six months after she sentenced Mill to jail time on a parole violation that neither prosecutors, nor Mill’s parole officer, had requested.
Tucker had initially declined to rule from the bench on whether to transfer Brinkley and instead gave Mill’s team more time to make the case for transferring Brinkley, but by Wednesday afternoon the judge had entered an order denying Mill’s request.
Click here to read more from the Legal Intelligencer.
PHILADELPHIA — A Pennsylvania judge on Friday released the names of the jurors who convicted Bill Cosby of sexual assault last month, saying he had waited more than three weeks after the verdict to do so because he wanted to give the jurors a “cooling off” period to return to their lives without being bothered by the media.
Even so, Judge Steven T. O’Neill of the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas said in his ruling that the privacy of the jurors had already been compromised by attempts on the part of some news organizations to obtain interviews after the verdict.
As one example, he cited an unnamed news media outlet that had attempted to interview six jurors at their homes and by telephone on Sunday, Mother’s Day.
But in a written order, the judge said he was bound by a 2007 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that the media has a constitutional right to the jurors’ names, as had been argued by lawyers for 13 media organizations, including The New York Times. The news media had pressed for the immediate release of the names after a verdict.
Click here to read more at the New York Times.
Pennsylvania voters going to the polls Tuesday expressed their preferences for the U.S. Senate and House, governor, state legislators and state party committee members. But not judges. This is an off-year for judicial elections.
Even when state judicial races are in full swing, however, a lot of otherwise informed voters have little or no idea who's running. That's one reason many people -- including five former Pennsylvania governors -- think the state should switch to merit selection of judges. Another reason is the incidence of corruption in the appellate courts.
Under merit selection, applicants for state Supreme, Superior and Commonwealth courts would be reviewed by a panel of bipartisan people, lawyer and nonlawyers, which would make recommendations for appointment by the governor and confirmation by the state Senate.
Appointing judges wouldn't remove politics from the process, but it would end candidates seeking campaign cash from from special interests, and guessing games in the voting booth.
Supporters of judicial elections say letting the voters decide is still better, arguing that appointment places partisan preference in the hands of the governor and the majority party in the Legislature.
Changing the system would require a state constitutional amendment. One thing wouldn't change: County judges and magisterial judges would still be elected by local voters.
What do you think? Is appointing judges, as New Jersey and most other states do, a better way to get a qualified judiciary?
Click here to vote in the poll at Lancaster Online.
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.
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
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