On March 16, 2010 Attorney Lewis Wetzel as unaminmously confirmed by the Pennsylvania Senate to assume a judgeship on the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas.
In this article written by Andrew Seder of the Times Leader Senator Lisa Baker was quoted regarding Attorney Lewis's qualifications and integrity.
Baker told the committee that “Gov. Rendell has nominated two individuals with extensive experience, quality credentials and the proper justice-first approach required during these unusual and unsettling times. Each is committed to restoring the reputation of the Luzerne County Court, rather than enhancing their personal reputation. Neither is positioning for a next life in electoral politics.”
“Given the depth and breadth of the appalling wrongdoing revealed, community trust in the basic integrity and fairness of judges will be hard to re-establish. Their willingness to serve is commendable; their enthusiasm for the undertaking is encouraging. We have had an extremely painful reminder that the fair administration of justice is not a sure thing. Securing justice takes effort on the part of many, but it clearly depends most of all on ethical judges.”
The ink wasn't dry on that article before Wetzel made a quiet political donation. According to a Federal Election Commission filing by Pennsylvanians For Kanjorski Attorney Wetzel made a donation to the campaign of Paul Kanjorski in the amount of $500.00 on March 18, 2010 found on page 19.
Lewis was sworn in as judge the very next day. In this Times-Tribune article the author writes Afterward, Judge Wetzel said he had been disheartened by questions involving corruption charges - such as, "Are you next?" - and said it will take time for the court to restore its image.
"I seriously think it will take my two years and then maybe then some to make people feel all is well with the court," he said. Doesn't it seem odd that right before he is sworn in Wetzel feels the need to make a donation to Paul Kanjorski just under the wire?
Although Judge Wetzel was not a judge at the time of the donation, its timing seems to be suspect. If Attorney Wetzel was truly engaged to restore the court's image does he honestly believe that his action shows a step in the right direction?
Canon 7. Judges should refrain from political activity inappropriate to their judicial office.
(1) A judge or a candidate for election to judicial office should not:
(c) solicit funds for or pay an assessment or make a contribution to a political organization or candidate
Strictly speaking Attorney Wetzel was not a candidate in the sense he had to run for office but he certainly was a nominee for a position on the court. The reasoning for the first prohibition would probably be difficult to divorce from the second situation.
Your honor, with all due respect, it will take much longer when "Politics As Usual" prevails on the bench. One has to wonder whether Judge Burke would support this action on his watch.
One more question, your honor. If a Republican comes before your bench against a Democrat are you willing to recuse yourself due to an apparent bias toward one party?