Pennsylvania Constitution in the News - Current (2013 - 2014)
On August 21, 2014, Leo M. Mulvihill, Jr, Esq., writing for the PhillyLawBlog.com, reported that one of Pennsylvania's mandatory minimum sentencing statutes was found unconstitutional. In Commonwealth v. Newman, the Superior Court held that a statute which required a "mandatory 5-10 years for a person found in possession of a firearm and drugs," where a judge only has to find possession of a gun by a preponderance of the evidence to increase the mandatory minimum sentence, was unconstitutional in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's holding in Alleyne v. United States. Alleyne held "that all facts that increase a mandatory minimum sentence must be submitted to a jury and found true beyond a reasonable doubt." See Pa Superior Court: Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Scheme "Unconstitutional"
Commonwealth v. Hackett, 2014 WL 4064039 (Pa. Aug. 18, 2014): per Stevens, J., held that "evidence did not support [a] post-conviction court's determination that defendant was mentally retarded." This inmate had challenged his death sentence by pleading that he was mentally retarded and therefore could not be executed in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's holding in Atkins v. Virginia. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court wrote that since the legislature has not passed any laws on how to follow the Supreme Court's holding in Atkins, the State Supreme Court exercises "its constitutional power of judicial administration in the interim to set forth procedures to implement the Atkins decision in Pennsylvania." Pursuant to this power, the court has established a test for challenging their death sentence under Atkins: the "defendant may establish ‘mental retardation' by showing that he has limited intellectual functioning, significant adaptive limitations, and the onset of his sub-average intellectual functioning began before he turned 18 years old."
On August 5, 2014, Andrew Staub of the Pennsylvania Independent reported that lawmakers and environmentalists are lobbying Governor Corbett to stop oil and gas drilling in around 25,000 acres of the Loyalsock State Forest. The Governor has stated that since oil companies own the mineral rights to the land, the companies must be given "reasonable access to drill" on the state lands. See Corbett Adviser: It's ‘Myth' PA Can Block Drilling in Loyalsock State Forest
On August 3, 2014, Gary Weckselblatt of the Bucks County Courier Times reported on the ongoing controversy over the pension plans for Pennsylvania's public employees. In discussing possible reforms for the plans, Governor Corbett's 2010 campaign plan was discussed, which would have shrunk "benefits that have not already been accrued for those already in the work force." Critics of the plan asserted that the plan would violate Article 1, Section 17 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and the plan was dropped. See Financial Experts: State Pensions 'Unsustainable'
On July 12, 2014, RegAlert reported that Rule 2.11 of the Code of Judicial Conduct was being amended. This rule, which governs judicial disqualifications in cases, is being amended to highlight that judges should "disclose on the record information that the judge believes the parties or their lawyers might reasonably consider relevant to a possible motion for disqualification, even if the judge believes there is no basis for disqualification." One of the reasons for this rule change is to make the disclosure of contributions from PACs part of the information judges need to disclose when a motion for disqualification is considered. See State: PA Action: The Courts - Rules and Regulations Department: Judicial Conduct
Constitution Party of Pennsylvania v. Aichele, --- F.3d ---, 2014 WL 3294855 (3d Cir. July 9, 2014): per Jordan, J., held that non-major political parties had standing to challenge ballot access statues in Pennsylvania. Specifically, the non-major parties can challenge title 25, sections 2911(b) and 2937 of Pennsylvania's Consolidated Statutes, which create the procedure for which non-major parties can get on the ballot and ways that private citizens can object to non-major party inclusion on the ballot. The decision reversed the holding of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
On July 8, 2014, Max Mitchell of The Legal Intelligencer reported that the legal community of Pennsylvania was a major reason that the state Senate removed language from SB 324 that would have reduced the number of state Supreme Court justices by two and the Superior Court by four. State Senator Matt Smith stated that the state's legal community educated the legislatures about the effect the cuts would have on the appellate courts' caseloads. The language was originally inserted into a bill that had only sought to reduce the size of the state legislature. See Push From Community Helps Reverse Proposal To Cut Judges
On July 8, 2014, Max Mitchell of The Legal Intelligencer reported that Erie County Court of Common Pleas judge Stephanie Domitrovich has been charged by the Judicial Conduct Board with misconduct. Specifically, she is alleged to have yelled at parties, initiated ex parte communications and "was dismissive, sarcastic, impatient, undignified, and discourteous to parties." In total, she faces six charges and the board requested that she be suspended by the court. See Erie County Judge Charged With Conduct Violations
On July 7, 2014, The Associated Press reported that some Pennsylvania state lawmakers believe that the current budget proposal, which covers topics from oil and gas drilling regulation to the allocation of funds for public schools, violates the single subject provision of the State Constitution. Aids for Republican lawmakers have said that "courts have allowed the Legislature's practice of creating a wide-ranging fiscal code bill that guides how money from a general appropriations bill is to be spent, as long as each subject is linked by clear wording to how the money is spent." See Wide-Ranging Budget Bill Could End Up In Court
On June 29, 2014, Dylan Segelbaum of the Philadelphia Daily News reported that a motion granting bail for a man charged with six counts of 3rd degree murder in connection with a building collapse in Philadelphia last year was denied. Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner stated that Article 1, Section 14 of the Pennsylvania state Constitution does not allow bail to be granted to someone who faces the possible sentence of life in prison or death. Judge Lerner added that while this was a "sad case for all," that "courts are not free to make their own rules." See Bail Denied For Building-Collapse Contractor
On June 27, 2104, Zack Needles of The Legal Intelligencer reported that the Pennsylvania Senate has rejected a major cut to the state judiciary. Specifically, the senate approved an amendment to SB 324 which removed language from the bill that would have reduced the number of state Supreme Court justices by two and the Superior Court by four. The amendment was introduced by Senate State Government Committee Chair Lloyd Smucker after the cuts to the judiciary were criticized by attorneys in Pennsylvania for having the potential to further burden the appellate court's caseload. Had the bill passed, it would have required the state constitution to be amended. See Pa. Senate Rejects Major Cut To Judiciary
Staple v. Com., Dep't of Corr., 2014 WL 2927286 (Pa. Commw. Ct. June 26, 2014): per Colins, J., held, in part, that an inmate could not "state a mandamus claim pursuant to" Pennsylvania's Religious Freedom Protection Act (RFPA). The inmate had sought the order to require the prison to return his religious books that had been confiscated because the prison deemed them to be altered. The court stated that while RFPA "was enacted in order to provide more protection to the exercise of religious beliefs than that currently afforded by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Federal Constitution," the ability for prisoners to use the statute was limited and that there could be no violation if the government action "is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests, including the deterrence of crime, the prudent use of institutional resources, the rehabilitation of prisoners or institutional security."
On June 26, 2014, Joseph A. Slobodzian of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Pennsylvania state Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery has been cleared by the F.B.I. of any wrongdoing in a scandal involving his wife and her financial relationships with personal injury law firms who's cases were heard in front of the state Supreme Court. She had received referral fees from these firms who had cases in front of the court and the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Justice McCaffery did not disclose these fees. He and his wife are currently suing the paper for defamation for the paper's reporting on the subject. See Report: Lawyer Says FBI 'Cleared' Justice McCaffery
On June 26, 2014, The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) announced that former State Senator Franklin Kury will be presented with the Ralph W. Abele Conservation Heritage Award for his "lasting conservation impact as the author and champion of Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution." The PFBC stated that the amendment, also known as the Environmental Rights Amendment, is "one of the most important pieces of environmental legislation ever passed in the state." The award is the highest honor the PFBC can give someone for distinguishing themselves in "the cause of conservation." See PFBC To Present Franklin Kury With Ralph Abele Conservation Heritage Award
On June 23, 2014, Kate Giammarise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Attorney General Kathleen Kane's investigation on the delay in bringing charges against former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky was not motivated by any political considerations by former attorney general and current governor Tom Corbett. The probe did find that prosecutors should have acted more quickly in the investigation, including search Sandusky's home much earlier in the investigation. See Politics Had No Role In Sandusky Inquiry
On June 17, 2014, Konstantine Fekos of The Meadville Tribune reported about a non-discrimination ordinance the Meadville City Council is considering. A group of the town's citizens are opposing the ordinance, specifically opposing the references to sexual orientation and gender identity that would be included. The group, "Protect Our Religious Right of Conscience," states that the ordinance would violate their rights under Article 1, Section 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which states that "no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of the conscience." See Petition Created In Opposition Of Anti-Discrimination Ordinance
On June 7, 2014, Global Data Point reported that the attorney for former Washington County judge Paul Pozonsky wants Washington County President Judge Debbie O'Dell to testify about an administrative order she signed that allowed police to search and seize evidence that lead to Judge Pozonsky being charged with various offenses. Judge Pozonsky's attorney asserts that since no search warrant was issued for these searches and seizures, the evidence should be thrown out as a violation of the 4th Amendment and the Pennsylvania Constitution. See Pozonsky Lawyer Presses For President Judge's Testimony
On June 5, 2014, Amy Worden of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Pennsylvania Senate State Government Committee passed a resolution that would reduce the Pennsylvania Supreme Court from seven to five justices and eliminate two judgeships on the Superior Court. This bill is a series of several proposed Constitutional Amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution aimed at reducing the size and budget of Pennsylvania's government, which also includes cutting the number of state senators and representatives, as well as eliminating the office of the lieutenant governor. The bill is expected to be voted on by the full State Senate before the end of the month. See Senate Committee: Cut Lawmakers, Judges, Lieutenant Governor
Commonwealth v. Alicia, --- A.3d ---, 2014 WL 2208138 (Pa. May 28, 2014): per McCaffery, J., the court held that "expert testimony on the phenomenon of false confessions would impermissibly invade the jury's exclusive role as the arbiter of credibility." In this holding, based on Pennsylvania evidence law, the Court decided that that the issue of a false confession "is best left to the jury's common sense and life experience, after proper development of relevant issues [of] the particular circumstances surrounding the elicitation of his confession." In a dissenting opinion which Justice Todd also joined, Justice Saylor states "the better approach is to trust our trial judges to make fair and just decisions on admissibility of expert evidence."
On June 3, 2014, Zack Needles of The Legal Intelligencer reported that the Commonwealth Court in the case Board of Commissioners of Bedford County v. Ling, held that the president judge of the Bedford County Court of Common Pleas "has no authority to withhold from the county treasury money in certain court-controlled funds." The opinion written by Judge P. Kevin Brobson specifically held that the president judge could not withhold funds from the county's supervisory, DUI, and fines/forfeiture funds. The opinion also noted that the case may be appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. See Court Says President Judge Doesn't Control County Funds
On May 29, 2014, the States News Service reported that the Pennsylvania's Senate State Government Committee will consider two bills that would reduce the size of the Pennsylvania legislature. Committee Chair Senator Lloyd Smucker stated the committee will consider an amendment to Senate Bill 324, which lowers the number of state senators from 50 to 45 and review House Bill 1234, in which the state house of representatives reduced the number of districts from 203 to 153. Both bills would require a constitutional amendment, which the voters would decide through a referendum. See Senate State Government Committee To Consider Proposals To Reduce Size Of Legislature
On May 28, 2014, Mark Scolforo, of The Associated Press reported in the Delaware County Times that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled in Commonwealth v. Walker that criminal defendants may introduce "expert testimony about the reliability of eyewitness identification." Justice Debra Todd wrote the opinion for the Court, which ended a 20 year period in which Pennsylvania had a per se rule that such expert testimony was inadmissible, stating "[t]wenty years of advances in scientific study have strongly suggested that eyewitnesses are apt to erroneously identify a person as a perpetrator of a crime when certain factors are present." See Ruling In Pa. Allows Expert Testimony On Eyewitness ID
On May 23, 2014, Chris Togneri and Mike Wereschagin of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that Governor Tom Corbett signed an executive order that allows for gas drilling under state forests and parks, but bans "drilling that would result in long-term surface disturbances." In allowing gas companies "to drill horizontally from wells on properties adjacent to state lands, or on land the state leased," Gov. Corbett stated that this is a "balanced approach" that both protects "special characteristics and habitats" of the state lands and also "provide[s] for historic investments" in various governmental programs. See Corbett Allows Drilling Under State Lands
On May 21, 2014, Kate Giammarise and Gideon Bradshaw of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Governor Tom Corbett will not appeal the decision in Whitewood v. Wolf, written by federal district court Judge John E. Jones III, which struck Pennsylvania's Marriage law, which prevented same-sex couples from marrying in the state. Gov. Corbett stated that "[g]iven the high legal threshold set forth . . . in this case, the case is extremely unlikely to succeed on appeal." See No Appeal of Pa. Gay Marriage Ruling
On May 20, 2014, Rich Lord of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Pennsylvania's marriage law, which prevented gay couples from marrying in Pennsylvania, as well as not recognizing same sex marriages from other states, was held unconstitutional as a violation of both the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the 14th Amendment. U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III wrote the opinion, stating that "the classification imposed by the Marriage Laws based on sexual orientation is not substantially related to an important governmental interest." The can be appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. See Same-Sex Marriage Ban Ruled Unconstitutional in Pennsylvania
On May 18, 2014, Chris Brennan of the Philadelphia Daily News reported that Dennis Kilderry's campaign for 173rd state House seat in Northeast Philadelphia may be in jeopardy because of past felony convictions. In 1994, Kilderry pleaded guilty to attempted car theft among other charges stemming from an attempt to steal a car. Current Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler, who reviewed the plea, explained "that car break-ins are often pursued as misdemeanors but attempted car thefts are treated as felonies." The Pennsylvania Constitution does not allow "felons" to be elected officials. See NE Philly Dem's Past A Problem
On May 8, 2014, Brad Bumsted of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review reported that Governor Tom Corbett will not appeal a state court's ruling against the voter ID laws the governor signed into law in 2012. Gov. Corbett stated that while he believes the court's opinion does constitutionally permit a voter ID requirement, that "changes must be made to address accessibility to photo identifications." See Corbett Won't Appeal State Court Ruling That Struck Down Voter ID Law
On May 5, 2014, P.J. D'Annunzio of The Legal Intelligencer, reported of statements made by Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D Castille in relation to criticism of federal defenders and the handling of death-penalty appeals. Chief Justice Castille stated that the problem was not a systemic one as reported, and that some of the blame can be placed on federal judges as well. See Federal Judges Share Blame for Long Capital Cases, Castille Says
On May 2, 2014, Zach Needles, of The Legal Intelligencer, reported that The Pennsylvania Supreme Court had ruled in Commonwealth v Gary, holding that police officers with probable cause, but without a warrant, may search an automobile even where that are no exigent circumstances, thereby adopting the federal standard. The opinion, written by Justice Seamus P McCaffery states that there is "no compelling reason to interpret the state constitution as affording greater protection than the U.S. Constitution." Justice McCaffery is reported as stating that adopting the federal standard would clear up decades of "fractured jurisprudence" regarding warrantless vehicle searches and allow police officers to make decisions in high-pressure situations See Justices Broaden Standard For Warrantless Auto Searchs
On March 18, 2014, Max Mitchell, of The Legal Intelligencer, reported on state Attorney General Kathleen Kane's statements during a press conference regarding a corruption investigation of leading state officals from Philadelphia allegedly taking bribes and kickbacks. At the press conference Kane cited the tainted credibility lead witnesses along with evidence of racial targeting as major sources in Kane's office shutting down the investigation. See Kane: Phila. Corruption Case was 'Dead' Before Her Arrival
On March 18, 2014, Zach Needles, of The Legal Intelligencer, reported that on March 12 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard arguments over whether the General Assembly has the power to overturn a court ruling through retroactive legislation. Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille was quoted as saying the legislature can change a law going forward but he was skeptical as to the legislature's power to overturn a court's ruling. See Pa. Justices Mull Legislature's Power to Overturn Court Rulings
On February 21, 2014, Michael Sanserino, of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, reported that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has denied an appeal from the Corbett administration seeking reconsideration on its decision finding Act 13 unconstitutional under the Pennsylvania State Constitution. See Pa. High Court Won't Reconsider Decision on State Oil and Gas Law
On January 21, 2014, Saranac Hale Spencer reported that the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has ruled the Voter ID law unconstitutional. In the opinion, stated as not reported, Judge Bernard L McGinley stated "Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the voter ID law does not further this goal." In his opinion McGinley said that the state can't pass a law under the constitution requiring voters to show photo identification without also including in the law a mechanism for the state to provide those IDs to voters, holding Pennsylvania's voter ID law doesn't do that. See Voter ID Laws Struck Down
On January 17, 2014, Gina Passarella, of the Legal Intelligencer, reported that the state Supreme Court has granted allocator in Zauflik v. Pennsbury School District involving the constitutionality of the Political Subdivision Tort Claim Act that limits damages owed by governmental entities. The case centers around a $14 million verdict for injuries sustained when a school bus ran over a student, with the verdict being cut to $500,000 under the statutory damages cap. See Justices Take Up Governmental Damages Cap Case
On December 26, 2013, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published an editorial written by Bruce Ledewitz on the State Supreme Court's holding in Robinson Township v. Pennsylvania, finding portions of Act 13 unconstitutional for violating Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. See An Opinion for the Ages: Pa. Supreme Court Strikes a blow for the Environment in Act 13 Ruling
On November 22, 2013, Max Mitchell of The Legal Intelligencer, reported that Judge Patricia H. Jenkins, of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, has been nominated to the state Superior Court. If confirmed, Jenkins will fill the vacancy created by President Judge Correale F. Stevens' elevation to the state Supreme Court on July 3 in addition to having the appeals court operating with a full complement of 15 judges. See Jenkins, DelCo Judge, Nominated to Superior Court.
On November 18, 2013, voters asked Schuylkill County Court to order recounts in the race for Mahanoy City Mayor, where Republican Dennis Wiessner trails incumbent Democrat Nancy J. Petritsch., it remains questionable whether Wiessner could even serve if he won the recount based on Wiessner pleading guilty in 1972 to the theft of turkeys and fencing in Lehigh County, which was considered a felony at the time because the property value was about $75. Under Art. II, § 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, anyone with a felony record cannot serve in public office, including mayor. See Recounts Sought in DA, Mahanoy Mayor Races
On November 11, 2013, Max Mitchell, of the Legal Intelligencer, reported on a ruling of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court holding that judges and magisterial judges may be disciplined for any illegal conduct that affects the integrity of the judicial office. This decision overruled a previous decision that limited discipline only to matters where conduct implicated the judicial decision making process. See Judges May Be Disciplined For Extrajudicial Conduct
On Oct 24, 2013, P.J. D'Annunzio, of The Legal Intelligencer, reported on Chief Justice Ronald Castille's comments related to his bid for retention in the upcoming election on November 5. Castille stated that despite having only one year left before reaching Pennsylvania's mandatory retirement age, he had many objectives he wanted to accomplish such as furthering the Elder Law Task Force and pushing for legislation regarding constable reform. See Castille Defenda Re-Election Bid, Touts Initiatives.
On August 5, 2013, Gina Passarella, of the Legal Intelligencer reported statements made by Montgomery County Solicitor Raymond McGarry defending the county's issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. McGarry also urged that before any court issued orders to enforce the ban they should examine whether it is constitutional. See Montco: Pa. Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional
On August 2, 013, Saranac Hale Spencer, of the Legal Intelligencer, reported that the injunction against the Voter ID law may be extended through the upcoming Pennsylvania elections. The State argued that continuing the injunction would allow poll workers to act as they had during the last election, allowing workers to ask for ID, and give more time for the court to decide the case. See Voter ID Law Injuction May Extend Through Elections
On July 30, 2013, Gina Passarella, of the Legal Intelligencer reported that a federal Judge in Pennsylvania has held that profit-sharing benefits of a female Cozen O'Connor partner would go to her wife and not her parents. The judge stated federal law controlled and clearly required that the benefits go to the surviving spouse; pointing out that there is no doubt who the surviving spouse is under the plan. See Court Recognizes Same-Sex Marriage in Cozen Benefits Row
On July 23, 2013, Saranac Hale Spencer and Ben Present, Of the Legal Intelligencer, reported on the debate surrounding State Attorney General Kathleen Kane's delegation of defending Pennsylvania's ban on gay marriage to the Office of General Counsel. According to lawyers on both sides, the article states the issue boils down to an exception to the attorney general's obligation to defend the laws of the state if a proper court has held that a given statute is unconstitutional; and if that exception is broad enough to apply to the US Supreme Court's decision regarding DOMA. See Legal Implications of Kane's Gay Marriage Move Uncertain
On June 24, 2013, Amaris Elliott-Engel, of the Legal Intelligencer, reported that Traffic Court Judge Christine Solomon testified before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court defending her conduct during the ongoing investigation of a ticket fixing conspiracy. Solomon remains the only Philadelphia Traffic Court judge not charged by federal prosecutors and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has issued a rule to show cause as to why Traffic Court Judge Christine Solomon should not be suspended due to her lack of cooperation with First Judicial District consultants. See Traffic Ct. Judge Defends Conduct During Internal Probe
On June 23, 2013, Emilie Lounsberry, of The Inquirer, reported on current efforts by various Pennsylvania judges to change the mandatory retirement age for state court judges given that the case was recently rejected by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. See Efforts Underway to end Mandatory Retirement Age for Judges
On June 11, 2013, Craig R. McCoy, of the Philadelphia Inquirer, reported that Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffrey is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigations over referral fees received by his wife, and chief aide, for referring clients to personal injury firms. See FBI Investigation Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffrey
On June 14, 2013, Zach Needles reported that Governor Tom Corbett had nominated state Superior Court President Judge Correale F Stevens to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Stevens was among the list of potential candidates previously reported on June 12, 2013.
On June 13, 2013, Amaris Elliott-Engel, of the Legal Intelligencer, reported on a speech given by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Conner. O'Conner suggested that judicial elections should be eliminated in Pennsylvania because of the danger political contributions can have on the public's perception of the judiciary. See O'Connor Suggests End of Judicial Elections in PA
On June 12, 2013, Amaris Elliott-Engel, of the Legal Intelligencer, reported that several sources within the Philadelphia court system shared knowledge of Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffrey contacting members of the First Judicial District in 2012 regarding then ongoing cases and how they were being handled within the district. See Justice McCaffery Contacted FJD About Cases
On June 11, 2013, Amaris Elliott-Engel, of the Legal Intelligencer, reported on the current debate regarding the role of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in judicial discipline cases. The article includes several interviews with parties on both sides of the issue, ranging from former Judicial Discipline judges, attorneys, and Pennsylvania constitutional scholar Bruce Ledewitz. See http://www.law.com/jsp/pa/PubArticlePA.jsp?id=1202603570470&thepage=1
On June 4, 2013, Amaris Elliott-Engel of the Legal Intelligencer reported of an interview with Chief Justice Castille by the Legal Intelligencer. Among the topics covered, the Chief Justice discussed his reasons for seeking retention as well as his impressions of the Court during his 20 years of service.
On May 20, 2013, Steve Esack reported in the Morning Call about activists taking action to prevent Chief Justice Castille from winning an upcoming retention election and serving another 10 year term on the Supreme Court. See PA Political Activists Seek to Keep PA Chief Judge Castille From Another 10-year Term.
On May 13, 2013, Paul Carpenter reported in the Morning Call concerning a challenge before the PA Supreme Court regarding "one-sided laws" for theft within PA casinos. Matthew Eisenburg was fined $75,000 plus restitution for stealing $200 worth of poker chips while working at the Rivers Casino. The Gaming law carries a maximum penalty of $150,000 in fines. A similar misdemeanor outside a casino carries a 10,000 maximum. Eisenburg's attorney argued before the PA Supreme Court that penalty was excessive under the PA Constitution and therefore unconstitutional.
As reported in the media on May 13, 2013, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has assumed jurisdiction under its Kings Bench power of the third state court lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of requiring judges to retire in the year they turn 70. As reported by Amaris Elliott-Engel in the Legal Intelligencer, during oral arguments in the two cases already before the Supreme Court, Justice J. Michael Eakin asked the attorney for the Commonwealth if the 3 cases could be considered by the High Court together and also asked if the 3 cases could all be rejected on the authority of Gondelman v. Commonwealth. Supreme Court Takes Control of Third Judicial Retirement Suit.
On May 7, 2013, Greg Gross reported in The York Dispatch that Ronald Franklin resigned from West York Council. Franklin did not meet the PA Constitutional requirement that a candidate be a resident of the municipality he or she wishes to represent for one year.
On May 5, 2013, Amariss Elliot-Engel, of the Legal Intelligencer, reported that the federal judge presiding over the Philadelphia traffic court ticket-fixing case issued a protective order keeping subpoenaed certification exams taken by six defendant members of the minor Judiciary confidential. The six defendants, as nonlawyers, had to be certified before taking office in Traffic Court. Philadelphia Traffic Court Tests Placed under Protective Order.
The Pennsylvania Bar Association Constitutional Review Commission will be making recommendations to the House of Delegates on possible Constitutional Amendments. Amendments include: amending Article III, Section 14 to define the duty of the Commonwealth to provide a high quality public school education; amending Article VII, Section 13 to provide that the legislature must adequately fund the unified judicial system; amending Article VIII, Section 1 to state that real property is not a single class of property and that the legislature may establish specific classes of property for taxation purposes; and amending Article II, Section 3 to lengthen the terms of Senators and member of the House in the General Assembly, but limiting terms to three consecutive terms. Executive Summary Recomendations
Amaris Elliot-Engel of the Legal Intelligencer reported that the Commonwealth Court heard arguments on preliminary objections in another lawsuit challenging the mandatory retirement age for judges in Pennsylvania. This lawsuit is challenging the requirement on different grounds than the two suits currently before the State Supreme Court for expedited review. Here, the arguments are that the mandatory requirement curtails the right of voter to vote for their choice of judicial candidate and that the 2001 amendment that allows judges to serve until the end of the calendar year, renders the requirement irrational since some judges will serve longer than other past their 70th birthday. Mandatory Retirement Lawsuit Argued in Commonwealth Court
Bruce Ledewitz, Duquesne University School of Law, was quoted in the Philadelphia Daily News saying that he does not think the State Supreme Court took the case challenging the mandatory retirement age out of self-interest. It is more likely that the court took the case in order to dismiss it. This Case for the Ages should be dropped
Gina Passarella and Amaris Elliot-Engel of the Legal Intelligencer reported that the State Supreme Court issued a show-cause order to the only Philadelphia Traffic Court judge not indicted the ticket-fixing scandal. Traffic Court Judge Christine Solomon has been hearing cases since March of 2012. The order requires Solomon to show cause why she should not be suspended for 90-days for "refusal to cooperate with the court ordered administrative review of the Traffic Court." Solomon has said that she was not well the day that she declined the interview. Justices Take Step Toward Suspension of Traffic Court Judge
Amanda Cregan of The Intelligencer reports that there is speculation that the delay in the disposition of the challenge to Act 13, the Oil and Gas Act of 2012, is due to the existence of a 3-3 split on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The Justices heard the oral arguments on the case in October, 2012. Attorney's anticipated a decision on the case by January. The Justices may be waiting until they can issue a decision in the case that would have a majority opinion. Pa. judge conviction leads to delay in gas drilling ruling
Robert C. Heim, the lawyer for six of the eleven judges challenging the mandatory retirement age for judges in Pensylvania, responded in the Allentown Morning Call to the opinion piece by John Morganelli in which Morganelli stated that the State is facing a constitutional crisis. Heim writes that the "rule of necessity" is not voided in this case where a federal judge can hear the state claim because the Justices of the State Supreme Court have the final say on what the Pennsylvania Constitution means. Heim also writes that, although a constitutional amendment is an approach to changing the law that is to be supported, the judges bringing the action need not wait for that political uncertainty to take place. State court correct to hear judges' challenge to mandatory retirement
John Hays reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the state Fish and Boat Commission is floating the idea of imposing a new fee for the "consumptive use" of water as a way to help fund the commission and the Department of Environmental Protection. Consumptive use of water is defined as taking water from the environment and not returning it. This happens when bottled water companies take water from streams and ship it out of state and when Marcellus Shale industry uses water in their operations. John Arway, the executive director of the commission, argues that the Pennsylvania Constitution mandates that the citizens own the water, so it is appropriate to charge companies whose use of water does not return it to the environment. Pa. fish and boat commission mulls charging industry for water: Senate resolution to explore imposing a fee has bipartisan support
Dean Kenneth Gormley, Duquesne University School of Law, testified at a State House of Representatives committee meeting Thursday about a bill under consideration that propose a constitutional amendment to raise the mandatory retirement age for judges to 75. Dean Gormley testified that he thinks that the age should be raised because it would allow experienced judges to serve longer, but that the retirement age should not be eliminated because it is also important to bring in fresh legal talent to the judiciary. Lawmakers Eye Bill to Raise Judges' Retirement Age to 75, The Legal Intelligencer
Zack Needles of the Legal Intelligencer reported that the State Supreme Court has issued its final report on the implementation of the recommendations of the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice. The Court has adopted many of the recommendations, and it is still considering others like mandatory continuing education for juvenile court masters and hearing officers. The Court has declined to implement mandatory education for judges dealing with juvenile cases, since many judges already do this on their own. The Court also declined to create an expedited appeals system, since so few appeals are taken from juvenile Court. Other reforms not implemented require legislative action. State Supreme Court Issues Final Report on Juvenile Justice System
John M. Morganelli, Northampton County district attorney, wrote in the Allentown Morning Call that Pennsylvania is facing a State Constitutional crisis because of the process by which the State Supreme Court has taken up two of the lawsuits challenging the mandatory retirement age. Four of the justices now on the bench, including the Chief Justice Ron Castille, will be facing the mandatory retirement age in the next few years. The use of the King's Bench power to bring this issue before the high Court has fueled speculation in the legal community about whether a member of the Supreme Court might have encouraged the litigation. A federal lawsuit over the mandatory retirement age has been stayed pending a decision by the State Supreme Court on the state law issue. Morganelli takes the position that the appropriate way to address this issue is at the ballot box, not through a decision by the State Supreme Court. Will judicial self-interest trump the Pa. constitution?
Mark Nootbaar of WESA reported that State Senator Rob Teplitz has introduced legislation that would place restraints on private lottery operators similar to those placed on casino operators. Political contributions from the industry would be restricted and politicians could not hold an interest in these companies. Teplitz has introduced this bill now because he does not want to wait until any deal is approved to create a private lottery system. PA Lawmaker Wants New Controls on Lottery Operator
Bruce Ledewitz, Duquesne University School of Law, wrote an Op-Ed for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in which he discussed the continuing problems for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. After reviewing a short list of the recent scandals involving the Justices, Ledewitz points out that at the root of all of these is the lack of institutional checks on the Supreme Court, such as those that exist for the other branches of government in the State. What checks and restrictions on power there are on the Court are regularly disregarded by the Court. Pennsylvania's Supreme Court, still broken
Cindy Lee Cumpston reported in the Herald-Standard that the Greene County commissioners unanimously voted to abolish the office of jury commissioner at their December 13th meeting. Now that the law allowing commissioners to do that has been overturned, the county is awaiting instruction from the state about what to do with regard to the office. After state Supreme Court overturns law county officials await verdict for jury commissioners' office
Amaris Elliott-Engel of The Legal Intelligencer reported that Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Jane Orie Melvin will be resigning her seat effective May 1, 2013. Her letter discussed the three decades that she has been on the bench as a trial court judge and as an appellate court judge. Orie Melvin Resigning From Supreme Court
Amaris Elliott-Engel of The Legal Intelligencer reported that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has granted expedited review in two of three lawsuits challenging the mandatory retirement age of 70 for judges in the Pennsylvania Constitution. The judges argue that this requirement mandated by the state constitution violates another state constitutional right of "enjoying and defending life and liberty, of acquiring, possessing and protecting property and reputation, and of pursuing their own happiness." Supreme Court Grants Expedited Review of Mandatory Judicial Retirement
Karen Langley of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette reported that Governor Tom Corbett has decided to renegotiate the lottery privatization contract with Camelot Global Services rather than appeal the rejection of the deal by Attorney General Kathleen Kane. The Corbett administration disagrees with Attorney General Kane about the legality of the deal and is seeking "to provide clarification to the attorney general" with the renegotiation of the contract. Pennsylvania lottery deal being revised to address attorney general's concerns
Zack Needles of The Legal Intelligencer reported that at the first oral arguments since Justice Joan Orie Melvin was convicted, some of Justices who are usually quieter during oral arguments were more active. At the same time, Justice Seamus McCaffery, who is usually more active, only engaged counsel once in, Commonwealth v. Gary, a case in which the prosecution was asking for the State to adopt the federal automobile exception to the warrant requirement. While some observes had wondered if there would be more sparks flying between the justices because of recent comments by Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille about the referral fees received by Justice McCaffery's wife, all of the justices maintained their normal air of decorum and civility while at oral arguments. Some Justices Became More Vocal at Recent Oral Arguments
Amaris Elliott-Engel of The Legal Intelligencer reported that at the meeting of the Philadelphia Bar Association on March 18, 2013, Justice Michael Eakin said that although he thinks the Court has the ability to appoint an interim Justice, the court is not likely to do so because it could pre-empt Governor Corbett. The Court does not want to be in the position of "ticking" him off. Justice Eakin acknowledged that there was criticism of the legality of the Court's appointing a replacement when Justice Rolf Larsen was removed, but he did not agree that there was any problem with the Court's doing so. Supreme Court Won't Fill Orie Melvin's Spot on Its Own, Eakin Tells Bar
Saranac Hale Spencer of The Legal Intelligencer reports that Chester County Magisterial District Judge Mark Bruno has sued the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and six justices individually in Federal court for violations of his 14th Amendment due process rights. Judge Bruno was suspended without pay on February 1, 2013 by the Pennsylvania Supreme court along with other current and former Philadelphia Traffic Court judges. Judge Bruno has plead not guilty to charges of wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy, and aiding and abetting. As a magisterial judge, Judge Bruno sat on the traffic court infrequently - usually once a year for four or five days. Traffic Court Judge Brings Federal Suit Against Pa. Supreme Court
Craig R. McCoy of The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that questions have been raised as to whether Justice MacCaffery should have disclosed income and recused himself from ten cases involving law firms from which his wife, Lise Rapaport, received referral fees. Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille has made a statement to the effect that payment of these referral fees to the wife of a judge who also works in his judicial chamber creates a conflict of interest and the appearance of impropriety. Another issues that has been raised with respect to these referral fees is whether receiving these fees constitutes the practice of law, from which Rapaport is barred while being employed by the courts. Referral fees given to wife of Pa. Supreme Court justice raises questions
Jeremy Sellew of the the Valley Independent reports that the superintendent of the Charleroi Area School District, Dr. Brad Ferko, wants to explore the possibility of random drug testing for students in extracurricular activities and for those applying for driving passes. He presented this idea at meeting of the school board on February 26, 2013. In the discussion that took place, Solicitor Mike Lucas pointed out that random drug testing implicates the privacy protections of the Fourth Amendment of the Federal Constitution and Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Charleroi Area eyes student drug tests
Dan Pero writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review that the recent trial of Justice Joan Orie Melvin is being used by advocates for merit selection to push for change in the judicial selection process. Legislation has been introduced by two state senator that would change the selection of judges from election to merit selection. Pero goes on to discuss some of the issues he sees present in having a system of merit selection such as domination of the selection process by trial lawyers and the lack of accountability by judges to the electorate. Pero points out that the merit selection process in practice has been no less political than the election process in states that have merit selection. No merit in merit selection
Brad Bumsted of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that 10 Republican legislators have decided to decline to participate in the state pension system. A variety of different reasons have been cited by the different legislators, one of which is that the Pennsylvania Constitution limits compensation for lawmakers to salary and millage. It specifically states that there is "no other compensation." 10 GOP lawmakers forgo their state pension
Professor Wesley Oliver, Duquesne University School of Law, was quoted in the Pittsburgh Tribune review stating that under the Pennsylvania Constitution, Judge Nauhaus, the trial Judge, has the authority to remove state Supreme Justice Joan Orie Melvin from the Court. The Constitution provides for an automatic disqualification for conviction of a felony. State Supreme Court Justice Orie Melvin might ‘want to fight until very end'
Bruce Ledewitz, Duquesne University School of Law, was quoted in the Allentown Morning Call stating that, although Governor Corbett's pension reform plan is not the same as the retroactive change attempted by Governor Thornburgh, which was overturned by the State Supreme Court, Governor Corbett's plan to change the pension plan of vested employees is still not something that the courts have upheld. Corbett's pension reform could end up in the court: Sticking point is governor's plan to change benefits of current employees
Paula Ward of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes that, Suspended Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin was convicted of all counts but one, official oppression, in her criminal trial for political corruption. Her sister Janine Orie was convicted of all of the counts filed against her. Justice Orie Melvin, sister found guilty: Jury finds that pair used state workers to run campaigns
Bruce Ledewitz, Duquesne University School of Law, was quoted in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review stating that Governor Corbett should use the King's Bench power to appeal the decision of Attorney General Kathleen Kane rejecting the contract between the Corbett Administration and Camelot Global Services to privatize the lottery directly to the State Supreme Court. This would be a faster solution than revising the contract and sending it through the Legislature. Because Kane's decision challenges the governor's power, this would be the best way to get a quick resolution. Corbett says decision on next lottery move likely to come next week
Zack Needles of The Legal Intelligencer reviews the frequency of 3-3 splits on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court since Justice Joan Orie Melvin was suspended from the bench in May of 2012. While there have been a few 3-3 splits, those splits have not always occurred along party lines. Justice Joan Orie Melvin's absence means more 3-3 splits on Pa. Supreme Court
Mark Shade writes in the Bucks County Courier Times that a lawsuit has been filed challenging the possible agreement between the Corbett administration and Camelot Global Services to operate the state's lottery system. The lawsuit claims that the privatization through this aggreement would violate the state's lottery law as well as the Pennsylvania Constitution because it would side step legislative review. Opponent of lottery privatization ramp up with lawsuit, website Brad Bumstead reports on TribLive.com that the deal has been signed by the Corbett administration and has been sent to Attorney General Kathleen Kane for review of its form and legality. Democratic legislative leaders ask attorney general to reject lottery contract
Sandra Neuman and Joshua Geist write in in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette concerning a pending "venue reform" bill in the General Assembly. House Bill 1976 would limit the venue for a personal injury lawsuit against corporations to the county in which the injury happened or in which the principle place of business is located. The authors claim that the proposed law would not affect all commercial claims equally and benefits large corporations over individuals. They also maintain that since the proposed law dictates venue, it is probably in violation of the separation of powers under the Pennsylvania Constitution, which vests the power to write rules governing the practice and procedure in civil court action in the Supreme Court. Venue reform bill merits outcry from residents
Professor Bruce Ledewitz, of the Duquesne University School of Law, was quoted in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review by Adam Brandolph on the question of whether or not the State Supreme Court would take up Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin's petition for King's Bench review. He predicted that they would not because her argument that she violated the code of judicial conduct and could not be criminally prosecuted was "not a strong legal claim." Attorneys for Joan Orie Melvin file motion asking Pa. Supreme Court to halt her prosecution
Three articles in the January 7, 2013 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette review the decisions made by Pennsylvania's appellate courts in 2012 and the effect of the suspension of Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin on the State Supreme Court. Cases and Issues of 2012, A-6 Michael A. Riccardi of The Legal Intelligencer discussed the rise of Supreme Court Justice Thomas G. Saylor's influence on the direction of the Supreme Court's decision making process. He has written more leading opinions in this past year than in previous years. The Supreme Court heard the appeal of the denial of an injunction by the Commonwealth Court in the voter ID case in which the Supreme Court remanded the issue for further review. One justice out; Saylor gains impact
Ben Present of The Legal Intelligencer reviewed the top cases decided by both the Commonwealth Court and the Superior Court. The Commonwealth Court heard a challenge to the state's Oil and Gas Act, and while Judge Simpson initially denied a motion for a preliminary injunction of the Voter ID Act, he granted it after he found that, in his predictive judgment, there could still be voter disenfranchisement for the 2012 general election. Voter ID, Act 13 took the spotlight
The Superior Court overturned Pennsylvania's statutory ban on "wrongful birth" lawsuits because it was passed in violation of the single-subject rule of Article II, Section 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Superior Court also heard the first appeals of juvenile sentencing for life in prison without parole in the wake of the decision in Miller v. Alabama, which held that life in prison without parole for juveniles was a violation of the Federal Constitution. Top issues revolved around constitution
Matt Hughes, of the Times Leader, writes that the district attorney of Luzerne County has decided not to pursue the ouster of Plymouth councilman Bill Dixon as ineligible to hold elected office under the infamous crimes clause. Dixon was elected to office in 2011. He has convictions for a drug charge and a burglary charge from the 1970's. Governor Tom Corbett recently pardoned Dixon for the state charges stemming from those crimes. The federal conviction for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine remains. Dixon's lawyer is in the precess of seeking a presidential pardon for that charge. DA not pursing Dixon's removal
In an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Torsten Ove writes that a settlement has been reached between Rabbi Daniel Wasserman and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Rabbi Wasserman has agreed to drop his suit in exchange for a clarification that clergy can perform a religious burial without a funeral director being present. The suit was brought in order to get the state to clarify the terms of the law, because funeral directors had been filing reports that he was in violation of the law. Past state investigations did not lead to charges being filed. Clergy to be allowed to conduct funerals, Deal ends conflict with morticians
Robert Moran reported on Philly.com that six Pennsylvania judges have challenged the Constitutionality of Pennsylvania's mandatory retirement age of 70 for judges under both the Federal and State Constitution. The suit was filed Wednesday. Pa. judges sue over mandatory retirement