Some Insight into Candidates for Pennsylvania Supreme Court

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There is  always going to be something you will not agree with for each candidate – that’s why it says these picks are the lesser of all the evils.  Only one thing will ensure justice in our courts – and that is very consistent and aggressive oversight  of all judges, so that they will fear for their jobs if they abuse their power.  In reality, they are merely public servants that are supposed to be applying the law as closely as possible to each case.  They have no power to make the law, but as we have seen that is exactly what they have been doing, especially in the lower courts, and that needs to stop. 

There is a saying that if you want to fix a problem in America, you do it by eliminating who profits from it. It’s a no brainer that if lawyers are focusing contributions  to a candidate for judge, they have their own self- interests in mind, however, there are other things to consider in choosing who to vote for the State Supreme Court.  

And it is not easy to find lawyer contributions thanks to Political Action Committees (PACs), often with names that sound like public interest groups. One PAC lining the pockets of the candidates’ campaigns was Committee for a Better Tomorrow. According to its own finance report, Committee for a Better Tomorrow receives most of its funds from the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association. During the latest reporting cycle, it gave $575,000 to Christine Donohue, $500,000 to Kevin Dougherty and $450,000 to David Wecht,  who are the three Democrats running for the Supreme Court. During the prior reporting cycle, the PAC gave each of those candidates $125,000 as well as $10,000 to Republican candidate  Judith Olsen.

The Committee for a Better Tomorrow also gave $450,000 to another PAC, Pennsylvanians for Judicial Reform, which recently launched inappropriate negative campaign ads aimed at Paul Panepinto, (running as an Independent) and Michael George and Ann Covey, two of the Republican candidates. In the previous reporting cycle, Committee for a Better Tomorrow gave $150,000 to Pennsylvanians for Judicial Reform.

The Coalition for People’s Property Rights, which is funded by businesses and some attorneys, made equal, but much smaller contributions.  According to the PAC’s campaign finance report, it gave $40,000 each to Republicans Ann Covey, and Michael A. George . Paul Panepinto is the only independent, non major party candidate, with the least funding, with Ann Covey and Michael George, all having less than half of the funding of Wecht, Dougherty, and Donahue. 

On the other hand, PCN broadcast a panel where the candidates were asked questions by local reporters, on October 26th.  With respect to that presentation, some of the best answers were given by Wecht, who is promoting video cameras in the court rooms, and was outspoken about inappropriate relationships between judges and lawyers.  Michael George was the only one with a sense of humor, the most spontaneous and came off as the most honest and sincere candidate. The other candidate that was appealing was Paul Panepinto, who formerly was a Republican, but could not get an endorsement.  He is running on a shoestring budget as an Independent. His answers were also very candid and critical of the current system that we all know needs a good cleansing.  Those are my three picks for Supreme Court- Wecht, George and Panepinto,  and it just so happens they are one Republican, one Democrat and an Independent. That was not a consideration in choosing them – it just worked out that way.  

A large influence on this decision came from watching the over hour-long video of the debate on PCN TV.  Ann Covey came off in the questioning as too austere, claiming she has never made an error in her rulings and had no major complaints regarding the current Judicial Conduct Board.  Christine Donahue had suspicious body language- she was the only candidate that had her hands under the table the entire time.  That may seem silly in picking a candidate – but in my mind it could also mean she is hiding something.  Donahue also seemed to have no problem with the current Judicial Conduct Board.  The rumor mill has it that Dougherty is heavily backed by the Zappala family – who were tied to the Kids for Cash scandal.

Watching the candidates perform  just enforced my initial impression of them from reading whatever came out in the media and in reviewing decisions they had written.  From my personal experience with the Superior Court – most of them are  not doing their job – and Donahue and Olsen are two Superior Court Judges. While Wecht is also on the Superior Court – he has written some decisions and made public statements that show he is willing to confront and change the current system. They all claimed they do not treat pro se litigants any differently, however not one has ever been given allocutor by the Supreme Court – at least not that I could find – in the last decade. It is not a surprise that there are no available statistics on the unrepresented in Superior Court. I do not recall any of them addressing the major mess of the family court system – and that was a big disappointment.

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