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With two seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court up for grabs, Tuesday’s primary looms as a very important day, one that will lead to radically changing the court one way or another. Because so much is on the line, and for other reasons which I’ll explain below, I’m doing something no one from The Legal has ever done before: publicly endorsing a candidate. In this case, I’m endorsing Philadelphia Common Pleas Court President Judge C. Darnell Jones II. Why only one? Because honestly, I haven’t made up my mind about the other spots in the primary or ultimately the other seat in the election yet. It’s not because I don’t think much of the other candidates. On the contrary, it’s because I was impressed with what many of them had to say on our 32-question questionnaire (and if you haven’t reviewed their responses, I strongly urge you to take a look at our Web site, www.thelegalintelligencer.com – we’ve posted all the responses for free – and see for yourself). So I’m still debating in my head with regard to the others. This really isn’t about anything negative with regard to the other candidates, and I’m not writing this with the intention of it coming at anyone else’s expense. It’s a positive statement about what I think about Jones and what I think it would mean for the state judiciary, the legal profession and Pennsylvania if he gets elected to the high court. This is strictly my opinion; I’m not speaking on behalf of the rest of the editorial department here. I’ve never approached judicial elections with much of an eye on party affiliation or philosophy. I think those elements get overrated. I would rather elect the person I think is the best judge, rather than the person who belongs to the same party or has a similar political outlook as me. Because in the end, those things shouldn’t matter to a judge. When people outside the profession ask me what makes a good judge, I give them this reply: “A good judge possesses integrity, a keen intellect, humility, an awareness of the real world repercussions of their decisions, independence, and an ability to make decisions that go against their background or rule according to the law even if it goes against their own personal beliefs.” I believe Jones personifies that definition. If you look at his background, he has extensive experience in criminal law, an area that dominates our court system. He has taught judges how to handle capital cases. Given questions and debates going on nationally about the fairness of the death penalty, it is critical that the high court have someone with expertise in this area. He also sat on Philadelphia’s Commerce Court program, which gave him extensive experience in handling complex business matters. Given that and his knowledge about criminal law, Jones has the breadth of experience necessary to handle any possible case that could come before the court. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that when you ask lawyers about judges, you learn that nearly all judges have their fans and critics. Jones is one of the few judges I’ve never heard an attorney criticize. When you do talk to lawyers about him, they talk about his intellect, his humility and his demeanor. To me, that speaks volumes. In his responses to our questionnaire, one of the things that stood out for me was that Jones stressed again and again the need for courts to maintain their integrity and independence, but also conduct as much of their business as possible in the public eye. Our Supreme Court has taken its share of hits over the past two years, some of them self-inflicted, some fair and others unfair. The public’s view of the court is not particularly good. Greater openness on the part of the court will go a long way toward re-establishing the public’s faith in it. While Jones’ decision to remove the city’s courts from two politically charged cases wasn’t popular with some of his fellow judges, it demonstrated to me an awareness of the perception problems that often can undermine the public’s confidence in the judiciary. His understanding and sensitivity to matters like that would help the high court avoid potential pitfalls in the future. Those elements alone make the case for Jones, but there are two other reasons – one broad, the other personal – why I’m coming out in favor of him. The broader issue is diversity. I wrote last fall that our Supreme Court needs diversity in terms of race, gender and geography. Since all the candidates are from Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, geography will have to wait. That leaves race and gender. And while I think it is important that the court have women – and it could very well factor into how I vote – the fact is that while women have made significant inroads on our appellate courts, the number of minority judges on the appellate bench is a disgrace. We’re all at fault for the way things are right now. The parties are at fault for not encouraging and supporting more minorities to run for statewide offices, and we, the general public, are at fault for not demanding greater diversity. Our courts should reflect our societal make-up, not stand in stark contrast. What does it say about us if, when presented with qualified candidates of color, we do not choose them? By all measures, including the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s “highly recommended” rating, Jones is qualified and deserving of a spot on the court. Electing him would hopefully encourage more minority candidates to aspire to a spot on the courts and perhaps help usher in greater diversity in law firms as well. If you truly believe in diversity, as opposed to paying lip service to it, then Jones should get your vote. Then there is the personal reason. When I wrote a column last December about my father’s battle with a particularly deadly form of cancer, I received a number of letters, e-mails and calls of support. One of the first was from Jones. It was honestly one of the most heart-felt conversations I’ve ever had on the job, and certainly the deepest I’ve ever had with a public official. He opened up to me and shared with me his experiences in a way that was both surprising and healing for me. He gave me his phone numbers and told me to contact him anytime I needed. Here was a man responsible for one of the largest court systems in the country, a man readying himself for the biggest political race of his life, taking time out of his day to reach out to me. He understood exactly what I was going through, and his words of encouragement gave me strength and peace. It was a conversation I’ll never forget, and in all fairness to him, I doubt it’s one he ever thought would get public mention. That call told me a lot about Jones the man. That above all else, he was a good, caring, wise, compassionate person. That here was a judge who wasn’t too big or important to take a moment and help someone in need. The call left me no doubts about the strength of his character or whether he was the kind of judge who would be a positive addition to the high court. So that’s my case for Jones. Some might think of this endorsement as a result of sentimentality. That’s OK. I like to think of it as a decision carefully reached after consulting with my heart and my head. HANK GREZLAK is the editor-in-chief of The Legal Intelligencer . He may be contacted at 215-557-2486, or by e-mail at [email protected].

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