Thursday, April 02, 2009

PA 2009 Judicial Candidate Survey and Scandals

By Tim Potts

In This Edition

  • Correction
  • DR's 2009 Judicial Candidate Survey
  • A Closer Look at the JCJC


In the March 17 edition of DR News, we were wrong to say that House Democratic Whip Bill DeWeese, D-Greene, had demoted 16 committee chairs and subcommittee chairs following the Pay Raise of 2005 when he was minority leader. Then as now, committee chairs must be chosen on the basis of seniority. In fact, DeWeese demoted 15 other committee officers. This correction appears in the version published on our web site: Click here .

Thanks to Bill Patton in Speaker Keith McCall's, D-Carbon, office for making sure we got it right.

DR's 2009 Judicial Candidate Survey

By coincidence, the Luzerne County judicial scandal occurs during a year when PA will elect six new judges to the state-level courts. Here's the lineup.

Supreme Court : 1 vacancy
Superior Court : 3 vacancies
Commonwealth Court : 2 vacancies

Click on the court's name for its official description, and click here for the state's unofficial list of candidates.

Now that the scandal has given PA's black robes a black eye in the national media ( click here for an excellent background story from the March 28 New York Times), we believe the Luzerne County case should be a focus of debate for all candidates for state courts. So our 2009 judicial questionnaire, sent to candidates two weeks ago, asks candidates to:

  • describe the changes that should take place in the judiciary as a result of the five-year legal disaster in Luzerne County.
  • discuss the state's new open records law as it applies to the judiciary.
  • name the three most critical PA Supreme Court decisions of the past five years, why the candidate rates those cases so highly and whether they agree with the rulings.

Click here for the brief questionnaire. As in 2007, DR will post all candidate replies on our website without editorial comment. We have asked for responses by Law Day, May 1.

A Closer Look at the JCJC

If there is a greater villain than the two Luzerne County judges who took $2.6 million in kickbacks for sending children to juvenile detention businesses, and the Supreme Court that refused either to investigate or to explain its resistance, it may be the agency that is supposed to supervise PA's juvenile courts: the Juvenile Court Judges' Commission (JCJC).

A decade ago, the JCJC was put on notice that confessed criminal and former Judge Mark Ciavarella had a penchant for drive-through justice that deprived children of their right to counsel. In 1999 Ciavarella promised, "I will never again see a juvenile without an attorney in my courtroom."

The job of the JCJC, click here , is to make sure things like the kids-for-cash scandal don't occur at all, much less for years on end. When Ciavarella and fellow-confessed-felon former Judge Michael Conahan were finally caught, it was on the basis of data collected by the JCJC itself.

  • So why did it take the Juvenile Law Center, the Attorney General and the Department of Public Welfare to bring to light what was going on?
  • What communications were there between the JCJC and the Supreme Court during the nine months that the court refused to intervene in Luzerne County?
  • Why did Chief Justice Ronald Castille falsely dismiss the JCJC statistics saying, "They weren't our statistics."? If they weren't your statistics, whose were they? And if you didn't believe the JCJC's statistics, whose statistics would you believe?

With Luzerne County making national news on ABC's 20/20 and in the NYT, you would think that the JCJC would be publicly investigating itself and asking for help figuring out what went wrong. You would be mistaken.

James E. Anderson, executive director of the JCJC, responded to the legal meltdown in Luzerne County with an essay that has appeared in several PA newspapers. Click here .

In its second paragraph, Anderson tries to turn the legal profession into the victim. Thereafter, he describes a juvenile court system that was pure fantasy in Luzerne County as he distances everyone in the court system from any responsibility.

Not to be outdone, Chief Justice Castille released his own essay that appeared in newspapers today. Click here . Like Anderson, Castille denies any responsibility for the hundreds of children and families who were victimized in Luzerne County during the nine months that Castille refused to heed the warnings. Nor does the head of the Unified Judicial System explain who allowed the Luzerne County judges to abuse their office for so many years without detection or intervention.


  • Who at the JCJC is going to take responsibility for this failure to protect more than 5,000 children and their families from a known judicial miscreant?
  • Who at the Supreme Court is going to take responsibility for the JCJC?
  • If no one is willing to take responsibility for what happened in Luzerne County, why should citizens have any confidence in our judicial system?

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