OK, OK, I Am Not Always Partisan

Multiple people have been talking about a rumor that Lynne Abraham will resign as District Attorney to run for another office, be it Mayor (as a Republican) or as Attorney General as a Democrat.

First, Lynne, who has been an incredibly ineffective DA, would be be an exception to my general statwide support of Democrats. Why in the hell would we want Lynne as the AG? So she can insure the AG office is as ineffective? So she can push statewide for increasing Death Penalty prosecutions? No thanks. While I am aware that a Democrat has never won this seat, I am not ready for her to control anything Statewide.

Second, Lynne as Mayor? Who would she pass the buck to if that happened? Maybe she would complain that the Governor never picked up the phone to call her? Plus, the fact that she is considering a switch to the GOP shows a little bit about her values... Left unsaid, of course, is the unspoken condition that for her to run as a Republican, the Democrats need to elect a black candidate. I am not sure you could find a more polarizing figure to run, especially as a Republican, than Lynne.

Third- in terms of the DA's office, there are a few things to consider. First, getting rid of her and getting in some new blood will be a positive for the City. Anyone heading an organization as large as hers will simply have trouble maintaining effectiveness after holding the position so long. That is nothing against her, just basic troubles in organizational philosophy. (IE, after a while, you can't make dramatic changes in what you have been doing, because to do so would be to tacitly admit that what you have been doing has not worked.)

But lastly, and very importantly- if she resigns, everyone should be aware of the consequences: The City's Judges, heavily dependent on the City party, pick her successor until the next election. If that happens, it is far more likely that they pick an insider- like Kevin (brother of John) Dougherty, currently in the City's Family Court- than someone who is ready, willing and able to make the necessary changes our City needs. And yeah, I am talking about Seth Williams.

special election

Why wouldn't there be a special election? Is there something funky in the Charter? And, if there were a special election, how do you think Seth's chances would be getting all the Ward Leaders' support? I don't know who they would choose over him, but that would be a coronation that I would love to see.

how'd that last one go?

Remember City Council? the complete lack of primary? the insider track is all!


"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
— Margaret Mead

The judges decide...

The judges decide ... in fact, that's how Lynne originally became DA. She was selected by fellow judges.

who left

Who did she wind up replacing, and why did they leave early?

Ron Castille

Ron Castille left and ran for Mayor ... but was defeated by Rizzo, then Rizzo died before the general election.


Why do you say the judges are

"heavily dependent on the City party".

Judges need the party to get elected but once there they are virtually certain of retention (Justice Nigro's experience nothwithstanding). In fact, the Board of Judges is potentially the most independent organization in the city. I don't know for certain but I would venture to guess that Seth has more than a few admirers on the bench.

Believe it or not, I would

Believe it or not, I would agree with this statement. There may be a few hacks, but there are some very good jurists on the bench.

Only one judge ever has not been retained--even those without party support get retained.


They are likely to be retained, which gives them some additional independence. (And, in fact, I forgot when I was writing that they only need be retained, not relected). And, I am not trying to attack them, because frankly, I have no real knowledge about their competence one way or the other.

But, many owe their positions to the party, making them more likely to pick an insider.

I would much prefer a system where there is an actual Democratic process.

Why Are We Voting Judges?

And we are still voting for judges instead of having merit selection because of what exactly? This helps the judicial process in what way?



Who should decide who has merit?

As a past and probably future judicial candidate this has great interest to me. While I can't say that the present system is working all that well, I can't think of a merit system that wouldn't be even more insular. I would love to hear some ideas that keep the selection process away from special interests and eliminate the need to raise money.
I wrote a post on this topic a while back but I am sorry to say I don't know how to link to it. You can probably find it if you are interested.

Who Should Make Merit Decisions

I generally agree with the ideas put for for merit selection by Pennsylvanians for Modern Court, which are stated below under Core Concepts . . ." taken from http://www.pmconline.org/merintro.htm .

I do have a concern with retention voting though (#5 below); I do understand the call for retention voting but I would be just as happy having judges removed from the electoral process. My general issues with voting for judges are that nearly all of the voters have absolutely no ideas who they are voting for; as I understand it the judicial candidates (rightfully so) cannot talk about their positions on issues or how they would decide in court on potential issues; the judicial candidates need to raise money and any money they raise from lawyers are going to be open to questions and the prospect of perceived or actual conflicts when the attorney's or members of the attorney's firm appear before them in court; in my opinion it is a waste of money in terms of fundraising for the judicial candidates to be involved in a political process (election). There will always be potential for special interests to get involved in merit selection, but if a nominating commission is balanced between the parties with some independents thrown in and are scrutinized by the press, and need to follow ethics laws, there should not be much potential for abuse. Right now in Philadelphia (and I assume other parts of PA) in many cases in order to be endorsed and supported by the party, you need to do the parties favors such as providing some pro bono legal help, not to mention finding street money for election day.

Core Concepts of Merit Selection

1. The cornerstone of the new selection process would be the creation of a new, independent body: a nominating commission.

It would be the task of the nominating commission to solicit applications for judicial vacancies, to screen and interview candidates, and to recommend to the Governor the most qualified candidates for nomination to the appellate courts. The commission would be composed of men and women, non-lawyers and lawyers, from across the state and from diverse backgrounds. The sole duty of the commission would be to evaluate and recommend candidates for judicial service.

2. The Governor and legislative leaders of both parties would have a voice in the selection of nomination commission members.

By allowing elected officials to appoint commission members, the public is represented in the selection process. Sharing the appointment power between the Governor and both parties in the legislature is critical to achieving a bipartisan commission and obtaining widespread support for the use of a commission-based nominating system.

3. The Governor would be bound by, and make judicial appointments from, the list of nominees submitted by the nominating commission with the appointments being subject to Senate confirmation.

The Governor shall be required to nominate a candidate for appointment exclusively from the list of recommended candidates provided by the commission and may not request a list of additional candidates. Without such limits, the commission process would be meaningless, since it could be undermined by simply ignoring the work of the commission or requesting successive lists until his or her desired candidate appeared on the list. By subjecting the nominee to Senate confirmation, the public is again represented in the process, and the consent of the Senate imbues the process with bipartisan support.

4. Deadlines would be imposed for action by the nominating commission, the Governor and the state Senate to ensure that judicial vacancies are filled in a timely fashion.

Strict timelines ensure that judicial vacancies would be filled in a timely manner so that the critical work of the judiciary may continue unimpeded. Additionally, timelines would combat any efforts by the Governor or the Senate to manipulate the process to result in the appointment of a favored individual and instead focus their attention on the candidates recommended by the nominating commission.

5. After an initial term in office, statewide judges seeking additional terms would participate in nonpartisan retention elections.

Merit Selection gives voters, through nonpartisan, uncontested retention elections, the final say on whether judges deserve to stay in office after an initial term.

Enough with Judicial Selection Arguments

This Commonwealth had judicial merit selection a long time ago and it was abandoned because it was corrupt and guaranteed that the make up of the bench looked nothing like the make up of the population in general. If your are constitutionally entitled to a jury of your peers, why not a judicial population that in some small part at least mirrors that of the general population. If people are committed to progressive politics, I would think that they would want as representative a system as possible, not a system where deals are cut for appointments.

Federal judges are appointed. Do you think that system is fair and impartial? The party bosses control that as well. On recent appointment to the federal bench? A Philadelphia democratic ward leader.

Is the election process for judges perfect? Far from it. But should we abondoned it in favor of a selection process that cries out for patronage. No.

Pick Judges Like Casino Sites?

I have not quite made up my mind about how best to pick judges. But this proposal for merit selection looks a lot like the Gaming Control Board. Would anyone say that we picked casino sites according to merit? Or was the process thorougly politicized with, in Philadelphia, at least, the two most politically connected sites being chosen?

If your answer is the latter, then a "nominating commission" is not going to remove party politics from judicial selection.

And if party politics is going to have something to do with judicial selection, then why shouldn't voters have some check on it by making the ultimate decision?

Maybe we should be thinking about how to reform the election process for judges not get rid of it.

I don't think we can

I don't think we can realistically remove party politics from being involved in some way. (It certainly isn't removed on the federal level either.)

But, I think we can come up with some kind of system that is way, way better than what we have now. And generally, I think electing judges is a plain old bad idea, even if you do have public financing/free TV time/non partisan ballots, and some of the other reforms that would generally make the process a little better.

I like the idea of voting

I like the idea of voting for State Court judges. I do, however, think the Philly Bar Association or the PA Bar Association could do a better job of making, publicizing and otherwise working to limit the effect of money and politics on judicial selections. In the end, most voters do not care about judicial races. That is why they are as messy as they are.

Why do you say

Lynne Abraham is bad and Seth Williams would be better. Seth is certainly well respected, but has no administrative experience running what is essentially the city's largest law firm. Let's not forget that he worked for Abraham.

If we could reform judicial elections

then maybe we should do so rather than use a different system for determining judges.

But how realistic is it to believe that in anything resembling the near future the amount of money spent in elections won't be the variable that correlates most closely with who gets elected? How likely is it that voters will really take the time to be voting for judges on a well-informed basis?

On the other hand, because merit selection hasn't worked in the past doesn't mean that it can't be set up well-enough to work in the future. There is no law of physics that determines that a merit selection process will be manipulated by special interests.

It doesn't make sense to say that one elections havnt't worked but could be reformed, and not give the same leeway when considering the merit selections.

Selection means.....selection

Remember when Bush "beat" Gore in 2000. The rallying cry then was that Bush was "selected" President as opposed to be "elected." This was generally considered to have been a bad thing. If that was a bad thing why do we want to go from "election" to "selection" when it comes to judges. Selection does not ensure better judges and it certainly doesn't make for a more inclusive judiciary.

As far as the money is concerned, having looked at judicial election results it appears that, unlike other elections, raising and spending of money is no predictor of success.

Remember, be careful what you wish for.

And Tomato Means Tomato

I am almost at a loss of where to start. The Bush Gore election was decided by a decision of the Supreme Court not by a selection. As bad as the decision may have been, there was a process that was followed that lead to a decision. It never should have reached that point and the outcome may have been bad and the process might not have been a good process. But it was the process that was determined to be the legal process that the Supreme Court should follow. You can say the Court "selected" a president, however, it was not like there was a presidential merit selection panel, where they identified potential candidates for the office, did interviews of potential candidates and investigated their backgrounds, strengths, weaknesses, education, experience, and other criteria, and short listed final candidates and made a recommendation of a candidate for approval by a legislative body and/or an executive office holder. I say the Supreme Court made a legal decision that lead to the determination of who won the presidency. But if you want to say "selection" and try to equate it as being the same usage and denotation of the word “selection” as in a merit selection process for judges go ahead and do so.

We vote for president and most other non-judicial offices to elect people to legislate, make laws and develop a course of action. (Hopefully we also elect them to be progressive, visionary, fix broken systems and for other good reasons, but that it a different matter.) We vote for judges to determine the legality of laws and how they should be applied to cases, and to do their part in the criminal and civil hearing process.

My three major issues with voting for judges are:

1. Nearly none of the people voting for judges have any idea of who they are voting for in that they do not know about the judges' records, their backgrounds, their belief systems, their legal decision making processes, their political ideologies, or their records. This is due to a lack of media reporting on judges' actions and their candidacies, the fact that ethics prohibit judicial candidates from saying much of anything on their own behalf, and the fact that in many ways most people really do not care who are their judges as long as they are ethical and fair.

2. People vote for or against judges based on three factors: a) the perceived demographics of the candidate (e.g. gender, and assumption of ethnicity/religion/race based on name especially surname); b) who the parties tell them to vote for; and c) a myopic view of a special interest based on a decision(s) that the judge made. None of these is a good reason to vote nor do they have any real bearing on a judge's strength, weaknesses and abilities.

3. Philosophical. While I realize that judges are human and are not always above the fray, and that they have ideologies, I do not view them as being part of the election process as being positive in that I believe it opens open the possibility of perceived or actual corruption; perceived or actual owing of favors to party bosses and leaders; and brings them closer to party leaders and other aspects of electoral politics that I believe judges should be removed from as much as possible.

I was working on a political campaign in California in 1986, when during that same election, Rose Bird, the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court lost a retention vote along with several other California Supreme Court judges due to a total smear campaign that wrongly blamed her for overturning a number of death penalty decisions. (The main reason she overturned the decisions was due to significant flaws in the California law.) This has largely shaped my thinking in this area.

Of course...

I understand the difference between a decision of the United States Supreme Court and selection. My point, which you apparently missed, was that the rallying cry in all democratic wards in this city was that we wanted people who were quote "elected" rather than quote "selected." You'll recall that it was the perception of certain individuals that Bush became president by virtue of some Republican justices who had been "selected" by his father.

Be that as it may, it is never good to have the decision makers appointed by other decision makers, most whom are only nominally directly accountable to the electorate.

It comes down to whether you

It comes down to whether you think judges are politicians or not. I would prefer that they not be.

Also, Frank Galvin, eh?

The Verdict

Was the last really good Sidney Lumet movie.


What was the name of Paul Newman's character?


The Verdict is . . .

Paul Newman, one of the finest actors of the past 40 years, is the person to do it. He is a legend and he bares his soul as attorney Frank Galvin, a lonely, corrupt drunk whose license to practice law is hanging by a thread.

The Verdict was

the greatest defense of the seventh amendment's right to a trial by jury.

By the way, I'm not as old as Galvin nor is my license in jeopardy.

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