Monday, January 24, 2011

Pennsylvania Supreme Court- Out To Touch With Reality

The American Bar Association printed an article penned by Debra Cassens Weiss about the perks Chief Justice Ronald Castille receives while occupying his office.

Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald Castille drives a 2010 Cadillac, but he's not paying the lease costs. He has attended dinners, golf outings and a social meeting at a luxury hotel, but he's not picking up the tab.

The state pays for the Cadillac lease, a perk provided to state appeals judges, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. Twenty-five judges lease taxpayer-financed cars, including Justice Max Baer of Mt. Lebanon. Baer drives a 2010 GMC Acadia he leases at government cost from his brother's Washington dealership, the story says. Thirteen judges don’t participate in the program.

Meanwhile some of Castille’s dinners and outings are paid for by lawyers and business people, including some with cases before the court, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported earlier this month. Last December, he attended a meeting of the Pennsylvania Society, a state booster club, at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria. The law firm Saul Ewing paid the $1,900 tab for the hotel room and dinners, just as it had done the previous two years.
Since 2007 the firm was involved in around 20 cases before the state Supreme Court.

A New York Times editorial criticizes the state ethics rules that allow Castille and other appeals judges to accept gifts as long as they disclose them. The state supreme court has ruled that it alone has the authority to set the ethics rules; almost no other state has rules that would allow the gifts.

Similarly, the state auditor general can’t audit the judiciary budget. “Appellate judges spend what they want, with little accountability,” the Tribune-Review says, quoting the opinion of Duquesne University law professor Bruce Ledewitz.

Castille said in a May interview that he accepts rounds of golf as gifts from friends at golf courses he could never afford, but did not give the Inquirer an interview for its November story. Saul Ewing lawyer Timothy Carson told the Inquirer the firm financed Castille’s New York trip because the justice should have a chance to interact with other state leaders.

Leo Strupczewski of the Legal Intelligencer writes this article about the precipitous drop in work output by Pennsylvania's highest tribunal

The state Supreme Court had one of its least productive years in recent memory in 2010, issuing far fewer opinions and hearing fewer cases than it had in the last decade.

Normally one to hear about 100 cases and issue authored opinions in another 150, the high court fell short of both traditional performance marks in 2010.

And it didn't come very close, either.

According to a review by The Legal , the justices authored just 67 published opinions in 2010 — a figure that represents a nearly 50 percent reduction in output over the year before. Similarly, the court scheduled just 79 cases for oral arguments last year — less than the 90 it scheduled in 2009 and the 125 it scheduled in 2008.

Though several individuals The Legal spoke with said it's better for the court to take its time when deciding confusing and complicated areas of law, 2010's low figures don't appear to be a result of the court becoming more judicious over what cases it takes or the court becoming more efficient in its work.

The justices, for example, granted allocatur in 497 cases from 2006 through 2010. And at the end of 2009, according to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, there were 280 "pending appeals" before the court.

Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille did not respond to an interview request for this story. Jim Koval, a spokesman for the judiciary, said at the time of that request that Castille would want to see the court's statistics before discussing workload.

Hank Grezlak of the Legal Intellingencer authored a great editorial, Pa. High Court Needs to Cure Its Black Robe Disease, about the Supreme Court which can be found here.

One wonders how the mess in the Luzerne County Courthouse started. Well, from reading these articles it appears it may have started with the lack of accountability at the top. Castille said he accepted the rounds of golf he could never afford. Castille's salary, not including benefits and pension contributions paid for by you and me, last year was $191,876.00. I guess that is a measely salary to be able to afford a $200.00 round of golf.

Oh, did I mention that he gets pensions from his service in the Marines as well as his stint with the Philadelphia District Attorney's office. Poor, poor, Ron.

No comments: