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"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
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Author:  Tony Phyrillas
Bio: Tony Phyrillas
Date:  October 10, 2007
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Topic category:  Other/General

Pennsylvania judges feel the heat

The launch of "Judicial Clean Sweep" by reformers has the legal community worried as Election Day draws near

I don't recall ever seeing a political sign in Berks County asking voters to retain a county judge. I saw one today. Actually, I saw bunch of signs along Route 422 asking for a "Yes" vote on Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl, who is seeking another 10-year term on the Berks County Court of Common Pleas.

Retention of judges at the county level has always been automatic. Not this year. The state's judges, from the county level to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, are sweating. And it's not just because they're wearing dark robes in this October heat wave.

The heat is coming from Russ Diamond and PACleanSweep, which has launched a campaign to oust almost all of the state judges as punishment for the judiciary's role in the July 2005 pay raise. (The chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court lobbied for the pay raise and even wrote an op-ed piece for newspapers praising the Legislature for its 2 a.m. vote to raise the pay of elected officials by 16 percent to 54 percent).

"Judicial Clean Sweep" is calling for voters to vote "No" on 66 judges listed on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The judges and the political establishment are worried. The Pennsylvania Bar Association and county bar associations are fighting back with ads and op-eds in newspapers.

And the establishment is bringing in some heavyweights to stop the PACleanSweep juggernaut, which is credited for helping to force 55 state legislators from office in 2006. And who can forget the 2005 ouster of state Supreme Court Justice Russel Nigro by reform groups that asked voters to punish Nigro by denying him retention.

The state's judges are more worried today than they were about Nigro.

Just last week, Pennsylvania Republicans asked former Gov. Tom Ridge to defend the judges and ask voters to let bygones be bygones.

Ridge's comments may have backfired. Many who heard Ridge speak or read accounts of his condemnation of the PACleanSweep campaign believe Ridge came off as condescending.

Ridge, who no longer lives in Pennsylvania, may be as out of touch with the reality of voter anger as the state's political establishment.

"At some point in time, yesterday's issues are yesterday's issues," Ridge said at a Harrisburg news conference. "Politics is about tomorrow. Government is about tomorrow."

I like what Tim Potts of DemocracyRisingPA said about Ridge's comments:

To some the admonition to "get on with it," is eerily reminiscent of the angry 2005 e-mail by Sen. Minority Leader Robert Mellow, D-Lackawanna, telling a citizen to "get a life" as Mellow and others stonewalled public anger and refused to discuss repealing the pay raise.

To DemocracyRisingPA, Ridge's advice is better aimed at public officials than reformers for whom repealing the pay raise was only the beginning, not the end. As DR's long form of Reality Check documents, there is a great deal of work to do in PA and we, along with many other citizens and groups, have been working hard to get our government to "get on with it." It is our government's refusal to improve our reputation as having the most corrupt state government in the nation that keeps the Pay Raise of 2005 alive.

Don't be surprised if Pennsylvania judges lose retention votes on Nov. 6. And this election is just a taste of what legislators will face in 2008 when all 203 House members and 25 Senate members face the voters again. Times have changed. It's the political establishment that still doesn't get it.

Tony Phyrillas (Columnist)

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Biography - Tony Phyrillas

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 (, 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. ranked Phyrillas the Most Influential Political Blogger in Pennsylvania for three consecutive years (2007-2010). You can follow Phyrillas on Twitter @TonyPhyrillas

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