Updated and reorganized at 12:53 p.m.:
The outcome of Tuesday's election in Pennsylvania will determine the philosophical balance of the seven-member state Supreme Court. Two Superior Court judges are challenging one another: Joan Orie Melvin, Republican endorsed, versus Democrat-endorsed Jack Panella. Philadelphia trial lawyers have been spending on Panella's behalf, and he prominently features union endorsements on his website: Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, Pennsylvania State Building and Construction Trades Council, Pennsylvania SEIU. The Democratic-leaning Philadelphia Inquirer's endorsement of Melvin makes the case:
JOAN ORIE MELVIN of Pittsburgh edges out Jack A. Panella, her Easton colleague on the state Superior Court. Melvin, 53, earned the state bar's highest rating and was cited for being "genial and fair- minded" with a "solid record of performance" on the bench over a 24-year period.
Even though Melvin has a political pedigree, she brings an outsider's viewpoint characterized by her refusal to take the 2005 judicial pay raise. She's also bucking the status quo with her call for an independently appointed agency to police rogue judges. Melvin's capable and equally highly rated opponent has fewer years on the bench and a sizable, special-interest campaign war chest.
Criticizing Panella for accepting so much money from the Philadelphia trial lawyers, Melvin offered, "The public's perception is it is pay-to-play, or justice for sale." In doing so, she reminded voters of the major "pay to play" controversy, that of Governor Rendell hiring the Texas law firm of Perrin, Bailey & Perrin to sue a pharmaceutical company on contingency after a partner in the law firm contributed to Rendell's campaign. (See Point of Law entries.) Granted, Melvin accepted money herself from the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association.
UPDATE : Much more detail on the political dynamics from Matthew J. Brouillette of the Commonwealth Foundation, a free-market think tank, "Supreme Nastiness in the Keystone State." Abortion comes into play, the nastiness of Panella's ads, and:
The last issue is related to one of the biggest judicial scandals in Pennsylvania's history, involving Luzerne County Common Pleas judges indicted for sentencing juveniles to a detention center in return for kickbacks from the facility's owner. Their alleged graft occurred while Panella sat on a state board charged with oversight of the conduct of lower-court judges. An Orie TV ad pounds Panella for being asleep at the switch.
Last week, the state Supreme Court threw out thousands of juvenile delinquency sentences, elevating the issue even higher.
Links to coverage and contribution reports below.
- Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 1, "Pa. elections: Little buzz, big importance
- Hershey Patriot News, Oct. 31, "Attacks drown out issues in state Supreme Court race
- Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial, Nov. 1, "For Pennsylvania Supreme Court: Elect Joan Orie Melvin"
- Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 28, "Supreme Court election crucial to redistricting, leaders say"
- Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Oct. 28, "Undecideds abound in top court, Senate, gubernatorial races"
- Associated Press, Oct. 26, "Melvin gets papers' Pa. Supreme Court endorsements
From the Pennsylvania Department of State: