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A prosecutor-turned-Presbyterian minister oversees a Web site where people, mostly criminal law attorneys, go to judge a judge: www.ratephillyjudges.com. Jerry Iamurri, a former Philadelphia assistant district attorney, said he thought up the forum when he cast his ballot in a recent judicial election and later noticed there was hardly a difference in victory margins between judicial candidates who were recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association and those who were not. “I thought, ‘Boy, I’d really like to see what the other lawyers think about these judges,’” said Iamurri, who is now a minister at the Frankford Presbyterian Church in Kensington after leaving the District Attorney’s Office a year ago. “I wanted to know why these people were recommended or not recommended.” The details of the bar’s survey aren’t made public except to rate candidates as “recommended” or “not recommended” – a categorization that does not appear anywhere on the ballot. “Some [candidates] I’ve never heard of before; some are endorsed both Republicans and Democrats; and I’m like, What do I do?” Iamurri said. “I thought, I really would like to open it up for people to say why they would recommend or not recommend these judges.” So Iamurri designed www.ratephillyjudges.com. It gets about 1,000 hits a day and 30,000 a month, he said. “It’s done great.” The site, which debuted in December and posts no advertising, lets Internet users anonymously rate Philadelphia judges sitting on the common pleas and Municipal courts by rating their temperament, efficiency and quality of decisions – each separate ratings on a scale of 1 to 5. Visitors to the site may also submit comments about a particular judge. Take for instance, Municipal Court Judge Wendy Pew, who has an overall score of 4.12 out of 5. Iamurri noted that Pew’s rating probably gets a boost from her good looks, which site visitors often fawn over. “Good judge and attractive,” typed one submitter who gave Pew an overall 5.00 rating in December. “Her maturity on the bench belies what appears to be her relatively young age. I know it will be a fair trial when I am before her,” wrote another, who also gave a score of 5.00 but in June. Still another poster aimed lower with an overall score of 1.00. “Well she’s cute,” he or she submitted. Iamurri estimated that about 90 percent of the ratings are submitted by criminal attorneys because of the nature of the comments they make and the position of the criminal-division judges who they often comment on. This isn’t surprising considering Iamurri specifically solicited attorneys in the District Attorney’s Office and the Defender Association to check out his site. “Public defenders and ADAs in Philadelphia spend most of their days in front of judges, all day, so they really know,” Iamurri said. But he encourages non-criminal lawyers, as well as non-lawyers who have appeared before the judges or work for them, to visit the site and submit their opinions. He does include a disclaimer on the site, which explains that the site’s content is offered “as a public service and opinions expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the operator of ratephillyjudges.com.” He also reminds attorneys that they are “bound by the Rules of Professional Conduct and ‘shall not knowingly make false accusations against a judge or other adjudicatory officers.’ (Pa. R.P.C. 8.3) ‘False statements by a lawyer can unfairly undermine public confidence in the administration of justice.’ (Comments, Pa R.P.C. 8.3)” Is he worried about being sued? “I am always mindful of that,” Iamurri said. “I try to stay far away from the line of what could be defamatory.” Iamurri does that by filtering what site visitors submit in the “comments” section of their reviews, sometimes deleting the “outlandish, bizarre, hurtful, vulgar and profane.” “I don’t like name calling; I don’t like insults; I don’t post accusations of racism,” he said. Still, “I know there’s stuff on there that people could be insulted by.” Iamurri said he wants to maintain the forum as a place for political discussion – a site where people exercise their right to free political speech. Robert Clothier, a First Amendment media attorney at High Swartz Roberts & Seidel in Norristown, noted that “most if not all statements on a Web site like this are likely not to be actionable statements of fact but statements of opinion and rhetorical hyperbole.” For example, one site visitor submitted this opinion of a judge: “Petty and vindictive.” Such an opinionated statement would be hard to prove true or false in a defamation lawsuit, Clothier said. Former U.S. District Judge Louis C. Bechtle said he had not visited www.ratephillyjudges.com but worried about how the Senate Judiciary Committee could utilize the site when evaluating a judge nominated for a federal judgeship. “The thing that troubles me is that the information is coming from persons who may not understand a judge’s responsibilities, or even if the person has been in the presence of the judge’s performance – they may have heard about them from a family member,” said Bechtle, who served on the Eastern District bench from 1972 to 2001 and now practices at Conrad O’Brien Gellman & Rohn. Those who post comments on the site could be truck drivers or cabbies, Bechtle said. “I worry about their comments because they don’t have knowledge about what goes into being a judicial officer. . . . It seems to me that if the public wants to find out how a judge runs his courtroom, they should spend an hour or two there to see how the judge does it.” Remember, he added, “We sit in public every day, and if we don’t behave, people know.”

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