One of the remarkable things about life in Philadelphia to me is that you can walk into a Common Pleas Courtroom and sometimes find a judge who seems intelligent, hardworking and fair.
Because those aren’t exactly the criteria that govern our selection process. Here in the Keystone State, we elect our judges, and we have no limits on campaign contributions, so the way you become a judge is by ingratiating yourself with politicians and raising a ton of money to give to ward leaders and other power brokers.
We’re reminded of this in a Sunday Inquirer piece by Walter Phillips, who describes a recent judicial swearing-in at which both the incoming judge and a State Supreme Court Justice heaped praise on a couple of Philadelphia pols who’d done federal time on corruption charges, because the pols still have some drag in local Democratic politics.
Phillips, by the way, is one of the all-time good guys in modern Philadelphia history. He was a special prosecutor in the 1970’s, making headway on corruption cases until the legislature cut off the funding for his office.
The late State Sen. Henry “Buddy” Cianfrani said of Phillips at the time, “If he can’t get anything on me, what kind of investigator is he?” Cianfrani was eventually convicted in a federal corruption probe.
Phillips is still plugging away for judicial merit selection, along with the folks at Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts. I just wish he’d named the judge and justice at the swearing in he wrote about.
The Pennsylvania legislature hasn’t managed to reform judicial selection, but it did get a state budget enacted in the wee hours Saturday night. I got a chill when I saw in the report by our Harrisburg correspondent Mary Wilson that lawmakers “also expanded, by 25 million dollars, a tax credit program for businesses that fund private school scholarships for students.”
A New York Times series in May exposed these programs as riddled with political cronyism and outright scamming. It’s worth a few minutes for you to read this piece by Stephanie Saul, which describes abuses in Pennsylvania.