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Concerns Raised About Big Fundraising in Pennsylvania Court Race

law-cash-21816475Advocates who would like to see reform of Pennsylvania’s judicial elections are raising concerns about fundraising in current races for three Supreme Court openings. The total has climbed to nearly $3 million and includes a personal friend’s $500,000 donation to one candidate.

“It was not that long ago when $500,000 was a whole campaign for appellate court candidates,” said Barry Kauffman, director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, according to the Associated Press.

“Unfortunately, judicial races are fueled by money and too often that money comes from lawyers or potentially, litigants,” said Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, which wants to see a merit selection system adopted for picking appellate judges. “There’s just something wrong with a system that practically requires the campaigns of judges and would-be judges to solicit campaign contributions and endorsements” from those who may appear before them in court, Marks said. Read more

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Millions Raised So Far by Pennsylvania Court Candidates

gavel_cash-300x202With a primary vote set for May 19, a dozen candidates for three seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court have already raised nearly $3 million, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Because it is unprecedented to have three open seats in one Pennsylvania high court election, some analysts have forecast record-setting spending. The Inquirer noted that one candidate, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Kevin Dougherty, has reported raising more than $707,000. His brother is the local head of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. At least $302,000 of Judge Dougherty’s campaign funds have come from that union.

Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts described Judge Dougherty as a credible high court candidate and also said, “It’s really hard to argue that people’s perception of such a system is not corroded when judges can accept huge amounts of money from groups and individuals who could very well come before them.” PMC is a Justice at Stake partner organization.  Read more

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When Judicial Elections Rely on Factors Other Than Qualifications

The many factors that Pennsylvania judicial candidates emphasize in hopes that voters will identify with them are examined in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, which notes that the factors often do not determine a judge’s qualifications.

“There are so many variables,” said political scientist G. Terry Madonna of Franklin & Marshall College, “and I don’t know that they have anything to do with judicial qualifications.”

Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a Justice at Stake partner organization, said factors such as geography and gender “are the kind of things that can matter when voters don’t know about a candidate’s legal experience or reputation.”

A dozen candidates are running for three openings on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court this year.

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Campaign Money is Double-Edged for PA Judicial Candidates

gavel-and-cash.125192919_stdWith 12 candidates competing for three seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court this year, the would-be justices both have to keep an eye on the money and also be alert to ethical and public perception questions around raising it.

That’s the thrust of a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article on the eve of the deadline for the judicial candidates to submit their first financial reports of the year.

“Some say it undermines the judiciary’s credibility for judges to be hustling for money — but in an election, fundraising prowess is one way candidates prove they are credible,” the newspaper reported. It quoted G. Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin & Marshall College, as saying sizable fundraising numbers “send the message ‘I’m a serious candidate.'”

The money that judicial candidates raise  “usually comes from lawyers and special-interest groups who have an interest in the outcome of cases,” said Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a Justice at Stake partner organization. Read more

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Judicial Candidate Who Won’t Take Campaign Money Stands Out

An Allegheny County, Pa. judge running for the state Superior Court, who vowed to accept no donations in campaigning for the Democratic nomination, gets a tip of the hat from a local editorial for his “refreshing” approach.

Judge Robert J. Colville’s stance is commended by a Pocono Record editorial. “No one appearing in court, he said, should have to wonder whether the judge presiding in the case received a campaign contribution from a lawyer or litigant on the other side,” the editorial says approvingly.

It also quotes Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a Justice at Stake partner organization, about his refusal to take campaign donations in the primary and about the light this casts on state judicial elections. “It’s an extremely partisan process to get a non-partisan job,” Marks said recently (see Gavel Grab).

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Inherent Risks of Electing Judges are Part of PA Political Landscape

vote signAs hundreds of candidates prepare to run for various levels of judgeships in Pennsylvania, a (Pittsburgh) Tribune-Review article includes questions about the harmful influence of elections upon fair and impartial courts.

“If you’re going to run an effective political campaign, you have to do things that are inconsistent with being a good judge, there’s just no doubt about it,” said Robert Byer, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully for Commonwealth Court in the early 1990s. “You get a judge that likes politics too much and that’s a dangerous thing.”

Twelve candidates are vying for three open seats on the state’s Supreme Court, and spending on the contests could be high. Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a Justice at Stake partner organization, told the Tribune-Review that campaign donations often are most generous from those who have an interest in the courts. Read more

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End ‘Diseased’ Judicial Elections, Pennsylvania Editorial Implores

20140602_Philadelphia-traffic-courtLast week, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Stengel had harsh words about electing judges when he sentenced a former Philadelphia Traffic Court judge, Willie Singletary, to 20 months in prison for perjury in a “ticket-fixing” scandal. Judge Stengel said:

“How someone so obviously unqualified for this office can be elected has more to do with the diseased political system that puts people like this up for office than it does about Mr. Singletary himself.”

This week, a Philadelphia Daily News editorial cited the judge’s remarks in imploring legislators to switch to a merit-based system for choosing judges: Read more

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PA Appeals Court Candidate Won’t Take Campaign Donations Now

An Allegheny County, Pa. judge seeking a seat on the state Superior Court vowed to accept no donations in campaigning for the Democratic nomination. “I am asking the voters to consider my candidacy on the merits of my experience and my qualifications, not my ability or willingness to raise cash,” said Robert Colville. He will fund his own campaign.

A spokesman for the campaign of Philadelphia Judge Alice Dubow, also seeking the Democratic nomination in the May 19 primary, said Judge Dubow plans to engage in fundraising to “get out the message so voters know more about who the candidates are.”

The Associated Press quoted Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts as saying, “Statewide judicial candidates shouldn’t be in the fundraising and campaign business.” Marks added, “It’s an extremely partisan process to get a non-partisan job.” PMC is a Justice at Stake partner organization.

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Dozen Candidates File for Three Pennsylvania High Court Seats

PennsylvaniaSupremeCourtIn the biggest judicial election battleground this year, 12 candidates have filed papers to run for three seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The six Republican and six Democratic candidates filed to have their names appear on primary ballot in May, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Only one is not a sitting judge. The candidates are Kevin M. Dougherty and Anne E. Lazarus of Philadelphia; David Wecht, Cheryl Allen, Judith F. Olson, Dwayne D. Woodruff, and Christine Donohue of Allegheny County; Anne Covey of Bucks County; John Henry Foradora of Jefferson County; Michael George of Adams County; and Rebecca Lee Warren of Montour County. Justice Correale Stevens, who was appointed to fill an interim vacancy, is seeking election. Read more

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Brennan Center Urges Wisconsin Justices to Consider Recusal

The Brennan Center for Justice has submitted an amicus brief urging the Wisconsin Supreme Court, in deciding a recusal request (see Gavel Grab), to apply its own rules in a manner that’s consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Caperton v. Massey ruling.

A special prosecutor has asked that one or more of the justices  recuse themselves from hearing challenges to a campaign finance investigation. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has reported that four justices benefited from extensive spending by three groups involved in the current cases. Read more

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