By Rep. Russ Diamond—102nd Legislative District
Pennsylvania is known for its chocolate, its mountains … and its many opportunities for corruption.
In the days leading up to my introduction of House Bill 38, I received the usual and expected rebuttals from mainstream journalists and Harrisburg lobbyists. I was accused of inserting gerrymandering into judicial elections and disenfranchising voters, while at the same time lectured about how “merit selection” (involving a 13-person panel) would somehow not disenfranchise them.
I can’t say I am surprised. As an outsider in Harrisburg, you can always expect pushback from special interests and the media who are always in their pocket.
Still, it makes you wonder why on earth every group of lawyers, journalists, and unions are against a bill that would seek to diversify the geographic makeup of our appellate courts. And then you remember the real problem you were seeking to solve in the first place before all of the “critics” descended: corruption.
My bill would not just diversify the gender, demographic, or geographic makeup of our appellate courts. It would also chop at the deep-seated subversion of justice in Pennsylvania.
Corruption is not something we should tolerate or ignore. It’s an embedded weed that has deep roots and has strangled other plant roots underground along the way.
For too long, Pennsylvanians have been given a raw deal by our judicial system and have been the butt of jokes about our public officials. From House speakers to trial court judges to traffic court judges, to Supreme Court judges, the commonwealth has had its fair share of judicial malpractice and public corruption.
The simple fact of the matter is that Philadelphia and Allegheny have been playing by their own rules while people like my constituents in Lebanon County suffer.
Of the most recent seven appellate court judges convicted or accused of serious crimes, four of them were from Allegheny or Philadelphia. Of the 19 judges on the Pennsylvania Superior Court, the court that decided that Speaker Bill DeWeese and Speaker John Perzel do not need to pay fines for their crimes, 12 of them are from Philadelphia or Allegheny.
You see, the current system of statewide elections for appellate court judges breeds a political class exempted from the rule of law.
Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, the major special interest group pushing against my bill, noted in its own April 2017 study that our commonwealth “has not been a stranger to judicial scandals.” The group perceived the ethics of our higher court judges to be of such concern it issued a report in 2011 on the state’s judicial disciplinary system.
But instead of proposing a decentralization of power that could help prevent such corruption from encompassing government, Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts is proposing to move power away from the voters into the hands of a politically savvy merit selection board.
Real reform gives Pennsylvanians a fair shake instead of rigging it for the politically connected.
That’s why every special interest, media outlet, and lawyer lobbyist is against my bill. Unfortunately for them, they won’t dissuade me and other honest legislators. We will fight to get this bill approved so it becomes a ballot question, giving you a voice and opportunity to end corruption in our judicial system.