Reformers target Pennsylvania judges for their role in pay raise debacle
Now, it's the judges. The watchdog group that has hounded Pennsylvania legislators since the infamous payjacking of July 7, 2005, has set its sights on the state's judges.
Having trouble deciding which Pennsylvania judicial candidates to retain in the Nov. 6 election?
The folks at PACleanSweep want to make it easier for you. Just vote "No." That's right. Vote "No" for everyone on the ballot.
The non-partisan watchdog group that helped launch the citizen revolt against politicians after the pay raise is targeting state judges for defeat this year.
PACleanSweep held a news conference in the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg last week to launch its new campaign to defeat all 67 judicial candidates up for retention in November.
In addition to its "Just Say No" stance on judges, the group unveiled a new "Judicial CleanSweep" section of its Web site at www.pacleansweep.com
PACleanSweep has collected a list of all judges up for retention on its Web site with a link to county-by-county lists for use by voters across Pennsylvania.
The group is recruiting volunteers to work the polls on Election Day to help educate voters about the retentions. It also released the first of its "Top Ten Reasons to Vote NO" on Nov. 6 in an article titled "The Judicial Swindle."
"The twisted judicial pay raise decision by the Supreme Court and the fact that every single judge in the state has benefited from it is the first issue every Pennsylvanian needs to consider," said Russ Diamond, PACleanSweep chairman. "We'll be offering more valid reasons to vote 'no' over the next seven weeks, but this is one that grates on citizens more than most."
Of the 67 judges seeking retention, 25 would not be able to serve out the entire term they seek due to Pennsylvania's mandatory judicial retirement age of 70, Diamond said. This number includes five of the seven statewide appellate court retention candidates. After a retirement, Gov. Ed Rendell appoints a successor until a new contested election can be held to fill that particular seat.
PACleanSweep is basing its retention campaign objectives on an online poll made available over the last month to Web site visitors and e-mail subscribers, Diamond said. The results of the poll are available at www.pacleansweep.com
"Reform-minded people have spoken and this organization is dedicated to doing the people's work," added Diamond. "Judges may decide the law, but the people decide who the judges are."
All Pennsylvanians — regardless of party affiliation — will have an opportunity to cast a vote on seven statewide judges from the Supreme, Superior and Commonwealth courts on Nov. 6, Diamond said.
Another 53 Common Pleas Court judges will also be on the ballot for retention in various counties scattered across the state. All these judges are seeking new 10-year terms.
In Philadelphia, where voters can cast a vote on the seven statewide judges and 10 Common Pleas judges, voters will also determine whether six Municipal Court judges and one Traffic Court judge receive new six-year terms. The next-busiest retention election area will be York County, where voters will decide the fates of six Common Pleas judges.
As you can imagine, the Pennsylvania Bar Association is not taking the PACleanSweep campaign lightly. One day after Diamond held his press conference, the state’s lawyers have struck back.
Andrew F. Susko, president of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, issued a statement condemning the PACleanSweep effort.
Susko said the group's call to oust all Pennsylvania judges on the ballot was irresponsible and he asked voters to consider the "judges' experience, qualifications, or judicial record" before deciding to cast a "Yes" or "No" vote.
"Judges should not be ousted from office as a group just because some disgruntled advocacy group says so," Susko said. "This misguided effort to 'clean' house would make a mess of our courts and would threaten severe, lasting damage to our court system."
Diamond argues that voters must hold judges accountable for their role in the pay raise, which was approved by the Legislature, signed into law by Gov. Ed Rendell and portions of which were upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
The state's lawyers, many of whom may want to be judges some day, see it differently.
Pennsylvania voters will render their verdict on the state's judges when they go to the polls.
Tony Phyrillas is a leading conservative political columnist and blogger based in Pennsylvania. He is a veteran journalist with 25 years experience as a reporter, editor and columnist for several newspapers. Phyrillas received recognition for column writing in 2010 from the Associated Press Managing Editors, in 2007 from Suburban Newspapers of America and in 2006 from the Society of Professional Journalists, Keystone Chapter. A graduate of Penn State University, Phyrillas is the city editor and political columnist for The Mercury, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning daily newspaper in Pottstown, Pa. In addition to The Mercury website (www.pottsmerc.com), his columns are featured on more than a dozen political websites and blogs. Phyrillas is a frequent guest (and occasional host) on talk radio and has been a panelist on the "Journalists Roundtable" public affairs TV program on the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN). Phyrillas was named one of the '10 Leading Greek-American Bloggers in the World' in 2007 by Odyssey: The World of Greece magazine. BlogNetNews.com ranked Phyrillas the Most Influential Political Blogger in Pennsylvania for three consecutive years (2007-2010). You can follow Phyrillas on Twitter @TonyPhyrillas