Perhaps a chance at Judicial Reform in Pennsylvania

My State of Pennsylvania shares the distinction, along with Texas, New York and a couple of other States, of having the most cluster ****** judicial systems in the country.

We have had numerous scandals involving Justices and Judges, from the Supreme Court all the way down to the municipal level. Spending on judicial races is reaching astronomical levels and will lead in turn to even more corruption, as donors come before the courts they have donated to.

Legislation proposing a Constitutional Amendment that would move Pennsylvania from partisan elections to merit selection of Judges is now moving through the State Senate. Proposals are not yet finalized and there is a long way to go to adopt a Constitutional Amendment in Pennsylvania.

My personal proposal would wipe out the current Judiciary in Pennsylvania and completely reorganize it.

All Judges would be selected by merit selection, similar to the Missouri Plan. Judicial Nomination Commissions would be set up, with balanced partisan composition and a mix of attorney and non-attorney members. Selections would require a minor super-majority, thus ensuring that members of both parties support a potential nominee. For each vacancy, the Judicial Nominating Commission would send three names to the Governor, who would make the final choice from those names. The Majority and Minority Leaders of each House of the State Legislature would choose 25% of the membership of each Judicial Nominating Commission.

A newly appointed Judge would stand for retention at the first general election at least one year following his appointment, then at 8 year intervals thereafter. Judges would face mandatory retirement from active status at age 75, but could serve in senior status another 5 years if designated to do so.

I would divide the State into 7 appellate selection and appellate districts. Philadelphia County would comprise District 1. The extended Philadelphia area would comprise District 2. Harrisburg and south central Pennsylvania would comprise District 3. Northeastern Pennsylvania would comprise District 4. North Central Pennsylvania would comprise District 5. Northwestern Pennsylvania would comprise District 6. Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania would comprise District 7. Each District would send 1 Justice to the Supreme Court at all times and each District would host a division of the intermediate appellate court.

I would abolish the Commonwealth Court and the Superior Court and replace them with a Court of Appeals for each of the Districts.

I would keep the Courts of Common Pleas arranged as they are currently, 60 divisions for Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, with 7 of divisions covering two counties and the other 53 covering one county. They would remain the Courts of General Jurisdiction.

I would abolish the Magisterial District Courts entirely and replace them with 67 County Courts, one for each County. The County Courts would be courts of limited jurisdiction (i.e. small claims, misdemeanors and such).

In the year leading up to a Judge’s retention election, I would create a system to objectively as possible rate the Judges on their ability to handle their docket and cases in a professional and efficient manner and create a method to distribute that information to the public.

We have a mess here in Pennsylvania with our Judiciary and we desperately need to fix it.

As a fellow PA resident, I agree with you. Having partisan elections for judges just doesn’t seem right. I like your idea of a bi-partisan commission to select judges.

I used to live in MA and there the Governor would nominate judges and they would have to be approved by the governors council. Unfortunately it’s not a perfect system as the governor could nominate donors and cronies and the council was almost always a rubber stamp.

That is the potential danger. When setting up the system, it must be set up so that no one interest can capture control of the nominating commissions. Not just Republicans and Democrats. There should be a balance of attorney’s backgrounds, so that you don’t potentially have nominating commissions dominated by Plaintiffs Attorneys, who would in turn load the court with Plaintiff friendly judges.