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In his recent letter to the editor, Russ Diamond of PACleanSweep suggests that the ouster of all judges up for retention election, which would discard over 700 years of combined judicial experience and service, is somehow appropriate. This is an irresponsible call; individual judges deserve to be evaluated on their entire record of judicial service and qualifications. Anything less than “merit retention” of judges who have properly discharged their judicial duties is unfair and would undermine the very fabric of our constitutional three-branch system of government.

Pennsylvania is one of five remaining states that engages in partisan election of judges as the initial selection process for the judiciary. Merit retention election, on the other hand, is a “yes/no” vote, based on that judge’s performance of her or her judicial duties while in office.

The suggestion that voters should blindly heed this misguided call to oust all judges, without evaluation of their record of service, does a disservice to our judiciary and would do lasting damage to our justice system.

When Act 44 was passed in July 2005 and Gov. Edward Rendell signed the bill into law, judges’ salaries were increased and were protected by Pennsylvania Constitution, Article V, Section 16(a). The constitution wisely protects the judicial branch of government by prohibiting a judge’s compensation from being diminished while they are in office. The statement that amendments to the pay raise bill were “germane” because judicial and legislative salaries were in the initial language of the bill from the beginning is not correct. On the contrary, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s opinion, authored by Justice Ronald Castille, clearly identified that the original bill’s single unifying subject was “regulating compensation for government officials” and concluded, in accordance with established legal precedent, that the provisions of the final enactment were germane to this subject. In doing so, the court gave traditional deference to the Legislature, as a co-equal branch of government.

To call for a “no” vote on all 67 judges up for retention because of this Supreme Court decision is irresponsible and extreme, and would throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water; Editor-in-Chief Hank Grezlak got it right. Blaming judges for a judicial decision that they did not participate in, and for a legislative process over which they had no control, is ill advised. The very legislative process at issue has now been the subject of reform, both through the efforts of House Speaker Dennis O’Brien and the House Reform Commission chaired by Representatives David Steil and Josh Shapiro and on the Senate side through the efforts of Senators Joseph Scarnati and Dominic Pileggi.

The Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) has strongly urged, and continues to urge, the voting public to take time to get to know their judges. To that end, the PBA has established the Web site www.pavotesmart.com. That Web site carries the recommendations of the Judicial Evaluation Commission (JEC), which has rated each of the seven appellate level judges recommended for retention. We ask voters to know their judges up for merit retention election and to consider the recommendations of the JEC, and we reject the suggestion for blind adherence to this misguided call by Mr. Diamond.

Andrew F. Susko
Pennsylvania Bar Association •

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