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Hank Grezlak’s recent column regarding the PACleanSweep effort advocating a “no” vote in November’s retention elections asks: Are we nuts, or just plain stupid? We are neither. What we are is dedicated to seeing that the rule of law is restored in Pennsylvania.

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear from the outset: Our argument is not over how much any judge should earn or whether any judge deserves a pay raise. The matter at hand is whether subverting the plain language of the Pennsylvania Constitution to get such a pay raise is proper. Do the ends justify the means?

Grezlak admits to ripping the Pennsylvania Supreme Court over its decision to award pay raises to every member of the judicial branch. PACleanSweep, most editorial boards, scholars and the majority of citizens who understand the issues ripped the court as well.

I was party to an amici curiae filed in the case supporting plaintiff Stilp’s arguments. But even on the crystal clear Article III questions of the pay raise, the legal community is fudging the facts to protect judges.

Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) President Andrew Susko, during an appearance on PCN with Rock the Capital’s Eric Epstein and me on Sept. 26, claimed the midnight amendments made to Act 44 of 2005 were germane because judicial and legislative salaries were included in the bill’s language from the beginning.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Either Susko intentionally misled PCN viewers that night, or he simply doesn’t know the facts. This is an extraordinary position for the leader of the PBA to put himself in. Was he speaking for all members of the PBA? We believe he owes an explanation to the people of Pennsylvania and PBA member lawyers.

The bottom line is this: When government refuses to abide by the law we the people have laid down for them, what are we to do about it? We have one choice: Vote them out. Otherwise, we risk regular citizens eventually rationalizing that if our laws for them don’t count, then their laws for us don’t count either. Overlooking this troubling constitutional issue will only put us one step closer to lawlessness.

We do not believe any judge up for retention would keep a stolen television in their living room. But we ask how accepting the pay raise is any different? Might it even be worse because it is contrary not to a mere statute, but to the highest law of the land?

Grezlak opined that allowing the governor to appoint temporary replacements for ousted judges “will only lead to more political cronyism in our courts.”

PACleanSweep equally eyes Gov. Ed Rendell with suspicion, but we also understand that the Senate, which is controlled by ideological opponents of Rendell, must confirm those appointments.

In addition, half of those senators face re-election next year. As such, they’ll tread carefully in the confirmation process. If they choose not to make the constitution a centerpiece of confirmations, they do so at their own peril. Further, was there any negative fallout when a replacement for former Justice Russell Nigro was appointed and confirmed?

I’m not sure that any particular cronyism that may result from appointments will be any worse than the cronyism involved in running a partisan campaign for a judgeship. Rarely do non-cronies win party endorsements. Every judge up for retention went through a partisan election to get there.

PACleanSweep is more than willing to look at a judge’s job performance. That performance begins with supporting, obeying and defending the constitution. Every judge swore such allegiance to the document before they heard their first case. How exactly does accepting the loot from the pay raise achieve any of these three objectives?

If we cannot trust judges to abide by the rules we’ve laid out for them in the constitution, how on earth can we trust them to sit in judgment of other laws and our fellow citizens? PACleanSweep doesn’t believe we can trust them – and that is the reason for our campaign.

The sky will not fall and the commonwealth will not crumble if 67 judges – roughly six percent of Pennsylvania’s judicial branch – lose their jobs. We turned out 24 percent of the legislative branch in 2006, including some of its most experienced members. Every eight years we get rid of the entire executive branch. The Supreme Court lost 28 percent of its members in the last two years. The world still turns, and Armageddon has not occurred.

Our focus on the pay raise is not blind rage. It’s just that it provides a stunningly clear example of just about everything else wrong with state government in Pennsylvania. It’s also something that gets regular folks engaged in the political process. We will stop focusing on the pay raise when it ceases to exist. Until then, we are content to beat all three branches of government over the head with it.

The citizens of Pennsylvania did not create the pay raise. They did not vote for it. They did not pressure Ralph Cappy to conduct secret meetings with the other two branches to advocate for it. They did not weasel a way for judges to keep it. The people of this commonwealth utterly rejected the judicial pay raise as enacted. Those who understand the issue utterly reject the way it was kept.

Pennsylvania’s judicial branch made its bed – and will remain lying in it until it is un-made.

RUSS DIAMOND is the chairman ofPACleanSweep, located at 109 W. Main St. inAnnville, Pa. He can be contacted by [email protected] or calling 717-383-3025.

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