Archive for the ‘Partyline’ Category
By Jacqueline G. Goodwin, Ed.D.
Finally, an elected official has gone on the record concerning the order by State Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille that the seat now held by retiring Magisterial District Judge Joseph Solomon be abolished at year’s end as a cost-cutting move.
It’s about time. In a Patriot News article, State Rep. Ron Buxton, D-Harrisburg, states, “The timing of the whole situation stinks.”
And he’s right. It stinks. The order to shut Solomon’s office, which covers the midtown and downtown areas of Harrisburg that includes the state Capitol Complex, came towards the end of the primary election. Not only did the Supreme Court’s order cause substantial disruption to a legal, ongoing, officially-called electoral process, it infringed upon my constitutional and statutory rights.
That’s why I decided to file a federal lawsuit, alleging violations of my rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Joining me in Goodwin v. Castille et al, filed in U.S. Middle District Court, are my former opponents, Roy E. Christ, Jr., Ronald G. Chapel, Leonard J. Lemelle, Jr., and Lynette Paszek. Chapel and Lemelle are also alleging violation of their rights under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
We’ve joined together in the fight because all of us were denied the right to seek the office by order of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania on April 15 that dissolved Magisterial District 12-1-03 and cancelled the primary election for which we had qualified as candidates.
Named as defendants are Ronald D. Castille in his official capacity as Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, and the Dauphin County Board of Elections.
We seek relief in the form of a special primary election with the winners to be placed on the general election ballot in November. We also seek the court to enjoin Chief Justice Castille from eliminating the position for a period of six years.
Our suit alleges the Supreme Court’s eleventh-hour cancellation of the election without re-assignment of the voters of the district to surrounding judicial districts denied to all residents of the district the right to seek the position of magisterial district judge in any surrounding district to which they might have been assigned.
In addition, our suit contends the Supreme Court has eliminated the voting right of a large bloc of the African-American voting population by its order. We allege that by failing to re-assign such disenfranchised voters to another magisterial district, the Court has unfairly discriminated against this population.
Additionally, our suit addresses the fact that while African-Americans within Magisterial District 12-1-03 have been denied a right to choose the district judge of their choice, their white counterparts in other parts of Dauphin County outside the City of Harrisburg have not been so affected.
For example, the office of District Judge Robert V. Manlove, who retired in 2009, has been allowed to remain open without a permanent replacement, leaving some to wonder if the court truly wanted to save money then why wasn’t this office permanently eliminated. Manlove was the Magisterial District Judge for the Camp Hill, Lemoyne and Wormleysburg judicial district, a predominately white neighborhood.
Even so, Dauphin County President Judge Todd A. Hoover believes the decision to abolish Judge Solomon’s office a good one, although Solomon has called the closure ruling a “travesty” because no plan to redistribute his district is in place.
“We will save about $850,000 a year by closing that office,” Hoover told the Patriot News. “His was the right office to close.”
There are two huge errors here. First, the operating budget (which includes all salaries, wages and benefits) for Solomon’s office in 2010 was approximately $500,000 while revenue was approximately $900,000. That is a $400,000 “profit.” In prior years the “profit” was as high as $650,000. Thus, the notion of saving $850,000 is ludicrous. How can you save $850,000 when it only cost $500,000 to operate?
Secondly, despite knowing of the pending retirement since Oct. 8, 2010, the president judge did nothing to prepare for the closing. The first step wasn’t taken until April 15, 2011 and there is still no known plan as to how to distribute the existing cases.
While Castille has ordered the county court to devise one for the state court consideration, Hoover said work on a plan is under way, but didn’t know if redistricting could be instituted before the November election. As this column goes to press, there is no plan in place.
The First Amendment, as made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, guarantees the right of the people to vote. An election, once called and for which candidates have qualified for ballot placement, cannot be cancelled without impairment of the electorate’s First Amendment right to vote.
If the state court wants to close district judge offices statewide, it needs to do it legally. It should not violate my constitutional rights or interfere with the election process.
The filing of the federal lawsuit is not about the “job” the “money” or the “budget.” It’s about closing the office and redistricting before the electorate nominated candidates. It’s about allowing the electorate to choose their judge in its new magisterial district. It’s about disenfranchising a large segment of African-American voters.
In the end, it’s about the right to vote. . .a right many Americans have died to protect.
It’s official. The state Supreme Court has issued an order to close District Judge Joseph S. Solomon’s office, which serves sections of Harrisburg’s downtown and midtown, at the end of the year. And in doing so, Pennsylvania’s highest court has denied six hopefuls the chance to become a magisterial district judge.
As one of those vying to become Solomon’s replacement, I saw my political career disappear in a New York second. As fast as I could say, “Jack Rabbit,” my political career ended. One minute I was delivering campaign literature, erecting yard signs, and knocking on doors, and the next, I was sitting on my living room sofa, watching TV and pigging out on junk food. Talk about a flash in the pan.
Before I filed my papers, garnered signatures and paid my filing fees, there had been rumors that the office might be closed. The Dauphin County Election Bureau even posted a notice on its web site warning hopefuls about the uncertainty regarding the office’s fate. But with no official ruling from the Supreme Court, the election bureau still accepted nominating petitions for the seat for the May 17 primary.
Even though I had been warned that the position might be eliminated, I had hoped the office would be spared. Why would Solomon’s office, which generated roughly $400,000 a year from fines and other costs, be the one destined for closure? It just didn’t make sense. And the fact that no other midstate district judge posts were on the chopping block just made the whole idea even more remote.
Last year, Dauphin County President Judge Todd A. Hoover confirmed that the option of closing magisterial district offices was on the table. Caseloads, relocation difficulty and other issues would be under consideration by Judge Hoover in making a recommendation to the state Supreme Court.
His review was prompted by a request from Chief Justice Ronald Castille, who asked president judges to take a look at their district courts to determine which could be eliminated through retirements or vacancies.
At the time, Art Heinz, a spokesman with the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, said the state was looking to close about 10 percent of its 550 magisterial district offices–or about 50 statewide. Reviews of the offices were being conducted by president judges, and the remainder through a mandated process triggered by the 2010 Census.
“When you don’t have enough money and you keep adding judges, you run out of money and that’s where we are now,” Heinz said.
For each magisterial district eliminated, Heinz said the state would save the judges’ salaries, averaging $78,000 a year, along with benefits and office expenses. Cases and staff members would be reassigned to other offices. With Judge Solomon’s annual caseload over 12,000 civil and criminal cases, I still held out hope. I continued to campaign. I invested in campaign materials, a website, and spent a large amount of time getting to know the voters in my district.
On April 19, I received a letter in the mail telling me that the entire office was off the ballot. I would not have the chance to be elected judge. Judge Jackie was not to be. So much for “A GoodWin for Justice.”
The decision to close Judge Solomon’s seat bars those of us who live in the city’s 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 12th Wards from voting for a district judge in this year’s elections. With the district judge seat removed from the May 17 primary, we will now have our judge picked for us by those who live and vote in other districts.
While the fact that I am now part of a large group of disenfranchised voters is distressing in its own right, I am troubled that there was no forethought as to how the district would be divided among Harrisburg’s four other district offices before the court order was issued. In addition, the timing of the announcement should have been made before the filing period began.
I am also disturbed at the lack of voter outrage in Harrisburg over the decision to close the office. In other areas of the state, opponents of the decision to close magisterial district offices have been quite vocal.
One of those urging that a magisterial district court office be kept open is Mayor of Braddock, John Fetterman.
Unlike Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson who has been mute on the subject, Fetterman has repeatedly spoken out against eliminating the local office of District Judge Ross C. Cioppa, describing the decision as an unfair burden to Braddock, a former steel town straining to get back on its feet.
“I think it’s important to maintain the office in this area,” said Fetterman. “It’s important to know the neighborhood, it’s important to know the context, and it’s important to know the people.”
In retrospect, with state government services on the guillotine all over Pennsylvania, it really was no surprise that the state judiciary — faced with a possible $17 million deficit – decided to eliminate Solomon’s office. And the fact that Judge Solomon had announced that he was planning to retire at the end of the year probably made the selection process that much easier.
The state Supreme Court looked at eliminating only magisterial district judges because the number of common pleas courts judges is set by the state Legislature, and therefore, cannot be reduced. But the number of magisterial district courts is set by the state Supreme Court and can be changed.
Even though there’s no recourse to overturn the decision, a public comment of support to keep the office open by our local officials would have been nice. To date, no one has stepped up and uttered a complaint. And that to me, is a big disappointment.
As Pennsylvania’s longest-serving U.S. senator, Arlen Specter outlasted many of his political enemies. But after 30 years in office, he could not withstand the current era’s steady erosion of the political middle ground, which ultimately left him without a base.
Specter’s career began in Russell, KA the hometown of former Sen. Bob Dole, and went from there to the University of Pennsylvania in 1947. He served in the Air Force, went to Yale Law School and returned to Philly to practice. He was a staffer for the Warren Commission, investigating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Originally a Democrat, Specter made a calculated move to the GOP. That was the best way up in an era when Republicans dominated statewide elections in the Keystone State.
However, Specter’s own ascent was anything but smooth. He lost a bid for mayor in 1967 and was ousted as district attorney in 1973. He ran for the Senate in 1976 and for governor in 1978, losing in the Republican primary both times. But he was not deterred. In 1980, he won narrow upset victories in the primary and the general election, becoming part of the new Republican Senate under newly elected President Ronald Reagan.
He infuriated conservatives in 1987 by joining the Democratic majority in rejecting Judge Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Later, he angered Democrats with his aggressive cross-examination of Anita Hill during the confirmation hearings for Justice Clarence Thomas. Then in 1998, believing that President Bill Clinton had not received a fair impeachment trial, he reached into Scottish law and voted “not proven.”
As Specter gained seniority, he became an effective and unapologetic pork barreler. He took it as a badge of honor when Brian Kelly of The Washington Post featured Specter prominently in his 1992 book, Adventures in Porkland – How Washington Wastes Your Money. Specter was indeed a go-to guy for public officials across the state, including Northeast Pennsylvania. He delighted in rattling off lists of regional projects for which he had helped to secure appropriations.
In the end, the vital center did not hold. Specter, after voting for President Obama’s stimulus plan and calculating that he could not defeat the conservative Toomey in last year’s primary, switched parties. Democratic leaders failed to provide him with a clear field, however, and he lost the Democratic nomination to Rep. Joe Sestak.
In retrospect, it used to be that politicians found safety in the middle. But with politics increasingly polarized, Specter’s middle ground became quicksand.
The Senate’s great survivor, Specter outlasted a decade of defeats before ever coming to Congress and stayed afloat through big wave elections from one decade to the next. Sometimes squeaking by in primaries, sometimes barely winning in November, Specter was always finding a way to come back. But not this time.
An effective advocate for Pennsylvania, Specter could make things happen. Love him or leave him, he will be missed.
By Jacqueline G. Goodwin, Ed.D.
There once was a gal from Wasilla,
Fond of making up words as she willa,
Though shooting a moose might seem pretty obtuse,
By quitting her job she’s made millya.
Last month when the ex- governor of Alaska offered her opinion on a proposal to build a mosque in the vicinity of the September 11th site via Twitter it became the perfect storm.
Palin’s tweet: “Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate.”
While some might focus on the entire message, English teachers like me only care about one thing. Refudiate.
Last time I looked, Refudiate is not a word. Nada, zilch. It’s not in the dictionary. Period. Read the rest of this entry »
In theory, the concept of electing judges seems fair. Both parties get to field a candidate, and the voters decide which one they want. But is it the best way?
Two bills before the General Assembly would get rid of elections for appellate judges and replace them with a merit selection system. One sponsored by Rep. Matt Smith, (D-Mt. Lebanon) and another by Sen. Jane Earll, (R-Erie) would create a 14-member panel, with eight members chosen by the governor and legislators and six being ordinary citizens picked by lottery. The panel would give a governor several qualified candidates for each opening on the three appellate courts. The governor then would choose one candidate to fill an opening and he or she would have to be confirmed by the Senate.
Merit selection of judges would have to be approved by the Legislature in two different sessions—for example, 2010 and again in 2011—and then approved by voters in a statewide referendum, the soonest being November 2011. Read the rest of this entry »
By Jacqueline G. Goodwin, Ed.D.
We all know what “bad words” are. Unlike most other language rules, we learn about swearwords and how to use them without any real study or classroom instruction. Even when we were very young we knew which words were naughty, although we didn’t always know exactly what those words meant.
The Constitution of the United States guarantees that people have the right to freedom of speech in the First Amendment. So at first glance, it seems like people should be able to swear whenever they want and wherever they want because of their First Amendment rights. However, constitutional law can be tricky, and a wealth of court cases has led to a wide variety of judgments surrounding swearing.
The courts have examined the use of swearing in the contexts of inciting people to violence, defamation and threats. They have generally ruled that the government does not have the right to prevent blasphemy against a specific religion or to prosecute someone solely for the use of an expletive. On the other hand, they have upheld convictions of people who used profanity to incite riots, harass people or disturb the peace.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court follows U.S. Supreme Court holdings on obscenity, which refers to speech that is more violent, graphic and sexual than the seven dirty words of George Carlin fame.
This year, Pennsylvania State Police records show that over 750 citations have been given by state troopers in the last year for using profanity or profane gestures. Read the rest of this entry »
By Jacqueline G. Goodwin, Ed.D.
Throughout history leaders have been infected with the disease of hubris, becoming bloated with an exaggerated sense of self and pursuing their own ends seemingly oblivious to the voices of others or the situation around them.
I first learned about hubris while an English and journalism major at West Virginia University. As I read the classics I was constantly bombarded with tales of prideful characters — Julius Caesar, Dr. Faustus, Dr. Frankenstein, and others who basked in hubris and received their comeuppances. I read about great leaders who, to paraphrase Frank Sinatra, did it their way: Napoleon, Douglas MacArthur, and Hitler. Now, I’m watching as the newest chapter in the Book of Hubris unfolds, shaking my head in amazement as I read about more and more elected leaders being led astray by their libidos or by their need to exercise powers over others. Gosh. These people think they can get away with anything. Read the rest of this entry »
While Pennsylvania’s population has virtually stayed the same over the past nine years, the state’s prison population has increased by close to 40 percent.
Although the Legislature quietly allocated funds for state prisons at a cost of $200 million each in last year’s budget, there’s been little discussion of the prison population explosion, what caused it, or the spike in the state’s corrections budget, which increased by 50 percent — from $1.2 billion to an estimated $1.8 billion — since the beginning of the decade. Read the rest of this entry »
Forget about backroom meetings or phone trees. For the tech-savvy in politics, it’s all about social media.
Sites such as Facebook and Twitter provide a platform for politicians to reach voters and colleagues instantaneously through status updates, messages and comments, among other things.
Legislators say they’re trying to be transparent and apolitical in a way that advances the public interest, the public’s right to know and builds public trust in the office. Certainly, transparency and authenticity seem to be two benefits most often cited by those using the new communications tools. But are these tools truly being used to connect directly to voters and their concerns, or are they just another way to way to campaign? Read the rest of this entry »
By Jacqueline G. Goodwin, Ed.D.
In 2001, Gov. Tom Ridge and the Legislature agreed to massive increases in the benefits paid out under the state pensions. In return for education reform, the Legislature demanded a pension bump. Act 9 of 2001 took care of that.
The law increased the pensions of state legislators by 50 percent. It hiked that of state workers and public school employees by 25 percent. Read the rest of this entry »