Pennsylvania: The worst of the worst

By Christopher Harper

Next Tuesday, I have the honor of voting for a representative on arguably the most corrupt and incompetent political institution in the country: the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Pennsylvania is one of the few states where judges run on a political ticket for 10-year terms. Over time, this formula has created one of the worst assemblies of jurists both Democrat and Republican.

Here is just the top of the pops:

Cynthia Baldwin served on the high court in 2006 and 2007 as an appointee of then-Gov. Ed Rendell. She later became chief counsel for Penn State. Baldwin received a reprimand in February by the high court over a complaint that she violated professional rules for lawyers by testifying about university officials accused in the Sandusky scandal when before that she represented them.

In 2010, two sisters of Justice Orie Melvin, Pennsylvania state senator Jane Orie and Janine Orie, were arrested and charged with theft of services and criminal conspiracy after a Pittsburgh grand jury investigation. They were accused of using Jane Orie’s Senate staff and office resources to help run their sister’s 2009 campaign for the State Supreme Court. Three years later, the justice also was charged and convicted on similar charges. Nevertheless, she didn’t spend a single day in prison.

Seamus McCaffery, another Supreme Court judge, sent e-mails with sexually, racially, and ethnically objectionable images and language. He apologized for sending the e-mails and confessed that it was “coarse language.” He was suspended from the bench for the e-mails and investigated for referral fees directed to his wife from personal injury law firms. He retired in 2014 with a full pension of $134,000 a year.

Michael Eakin resigned in 2016 from the bench after being suspended for sending e-mails containing pornographic material to his colleagues on the court, attorneys, and lower court judges. According to news accounts, the e-mails also featured sexual, racial, and ethnic humor that many found objectionable.

Eakin insisted that his “humor” and “sexual preferences” did not interfere with his ability to decide cases before the court fairly. By resigning, Eakin was able to escape a hearing before the ethics board and any punishment. He retired with a full pension.

Kevin Dougherty, the brother of union boss John Dougherty, reportedly got his snow shoveled and house repaired from an illegal union slush fund, according to federal prosecutors trying John for corruption charges. Justice Dougherty has not been charged.

When Kevin was elected to the court in 2015, it raised more than a few eyebrows because his brother was arguably the most powerful man in Philadelphia politics before his indictment for corruption.

But the court isn’t just about unethical and illegal acts; it also makes bad law. 

As you may recall, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court delivered a neck-snapping decision to allow ballots to be submitted three days AFTER the presidential election in 2020.

The law unambiguously stated that voters must “fill out, date and sign,” yet the state Supreme Court said the ballots should be counted, in a one-time exception for 2020. Earlier in the case, Judge Kevin Brobson had ruled the opposite. “To remove the date requirement,” he wrote, “would constitute a judicial rewrite of the statute.”

It will take a long time to get rid of these meatheads, but at least I can vote for Judge Brobson, a Republican whose website says he’ll defend “the law as it is written.”

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