New Castle News

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January 27, 2013

John K. Manna: A new way to judge the judges

NEW CASTLE — Over the years, I’ve changed my mind a few times over how judges are selected to Pennsylvania’s appellate courts.

I’ve favored merit selection of judges for the three appellate courts: Commonwealth, Superior and Supreme. And I’ve favored having the judges elected by the voters as they are now.

Under the current system, the wide majority of voters have no deep knowledge of the candidates. While the state bar association makes recommendations on candidates, voters generally have sketchy information.

And so it becomes somewhat of a crapshoot when voters cast their ballots. As a result, some of those who are elected may not be among the best and the brightest.

Which is why some people favor merit selection. That way, only those with “impeccable” credentials would be selected to serve on the state’s highest courts.

This week, state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams of Philadelphia announced he is co-sponsoring a bill amending the state constitution to have merit selection for the high courts.

Williams gave his reasoning for co-sponsoring the bill, noting the start of a corruption trial for suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her sister, Janine, this week.

The two are charged with illegally using Melvin’s former Superior Court staff to run her political campaigns.

“We cannot have a society of laws if those sworn to uphold them are seen as willing to disregard them,” Williams said. “Lawmakers are drawn from the people, but our courts are supposed to be our gold standard.”

Under the bill, a nominating commission would provide a list of five candidates to the governor who would make the appointment.

The commission would be made up of seven public members and eight members appointed by elected officials: Four by the governor and four by the Legislature. The commission would include attorneys and non-attorneys, but no members could be political or appointed officeholders or staffers to either.

Sounds great, but it doesn’t ensure that even the most qualified person wouldn’t be susceptible to corruption in the future.

Strides should always be made to have the most qualified people on the courts. But after that, we can only hope that they are also people of the highest integrity.

 

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