House Judiciary Committee Examines Cutler Proposal to Alter Judicial Selection in Pennsylvania
3/2/2012
PHILADELPHIA – The House Judiciary Committee Thursday held a hearing in Philadelphia to consider two legislative measures proposed by Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Peach Bottom) to move away from electing certain judges in Pennsylvania to a system of merit selection.

“We have an election system sadly dependent on campaign contributions, which has led the people to rightfully question if the political system affects the integrity of the judicial system,” said Cutler. “I believe the faith of our citizens in the judicial system is vital. We must have judges who are qualified, competent, and scrupulous. The electoral system comes down to who can raise the most money, produce the best ads and campaign the hardest. None of these qualities are relevant to the judicial system. I believe merit selection could help to restore the faith of the people in this important branch of state government.”

The committee heard testimony about House Bill 1815 and House Bill 1816. House Bill 1815 would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to allow the governor to appoint judges to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Superior Court and Commonwealth Court, subject to the approval of the state Senate. House Bill 1816 would create an Appellate Court Nominating Commission to review candidates for appellate court vacancies and present a list of the most qualified candidates to the governor for final selection.

Eric Tilles, Esq., president of the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel (DELVACCA) testified that Pennsylvania is one of only a few states to elect judges, and that the judicial system should be untainted by the political process.

Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts representatives Lynn Marks, Bob Heim and Shira Goodman presented a video to the committee in favor of merit selection.

“People need to believe they get a fair shake in the courts,” said Marks. “No system is void of politics, but Pennsylvanians deserve a system designed to seat the most qualified judges possible.”

Heim spoke about the need to get political contributions out of the judicial system; removing the perception that big money can affect a judge’s decisions.

Goodman reminded the committee that Pennsylvania currently has no rules of recusal for judges, so a judge can hear any case, even those involving campaign donors. She said the best answer is to get judges out of the fundraising business.

Olivia Thorne of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania explained that voters often complain about the lack of information available about judicial candidates, leaving them to make decisions based on incomplete information.

Mike Walker of the Urban League testified that certain groups are shut out of the judicial branch because of the electoral process and that merit selection would lead to greater diversity in the courts.

Dr. Greg Randall Lee, a law professor with Widener University, questioned the legislation, stating that appointments do not always work to improve the judicial system or even remove politics from the process of seating judges.

The committee also heard testimony from Kathleen Wilkinson, chancellor-elect of the Philadelphia Bar Association; David Taylor, board member with the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association; Charlotte Glauser, judicial specialist with the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania; K.O. Myers, director of research and programs for the American Judicature Society; Matthew Berg, director of state affairs for Justice at Stake; and Bishop Mary Floyd Palmer of the Samaritan Temple.

“I believe the majority of Pennsylvania’s judges are honorable individuals who are genuinely acting on behalf of the people; however, we have seen egregious cases of corruption, a lack of willingness on the part of some judges to recuse themselves and seats filled on the basis of ballot position, rather than qualification,” said Cutler. “My goal is to ensure that Pennsylvania has a court system of the highest integrity to serve the people of this great Commonwealth.

Both bills await a vote in the House Judiciary Committee.

More information about Cutler and his legislative priorities is available at RepCutler.com or Facebook.com/RepBryanCutler.

State Representative Bryan Cutler
100th District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Nicole Wamsley
nwamsley@pahousegop.com
717.783.8063
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