"What's black and white and read all over?"

Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Posted 6:51 PM by

Pa. chief justice's defense of pay jacking lacking

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ralph Cappy claims judges are quitting because they aren't getting paid enough. I say good riddance.Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ralph Cappy had the audacity today to defend last week's state Supreme Court ruling restoring his and 1,000 other judges' raises by saying the extra money is needed to retain quality justices.

In a speech to The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Cappy said the $14 million the raises will cost state taxpayers "isn't a significant amount of money to try to ensure the quality of the judiciary. We are losing our best judges ... and we're not replacing them with the same quality."

Cappy's comments came one day after Jim Matthews, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, accused some in the judiciary of playing politics with their decisions based on how much money a defense attorney contributes to campaigns.

Matthews claimed the practice has been going on in Philly for 50 years.

I do think Cappy's right about one thing - new judges are not the same quality of those they're replacing, they're better.

If a few thousand dollars is the deciding factor on whether a sitting judge will stay in office, then he or she should hang up his robe immediately. They don't deserve the public trust that position entails and we don't need them.

Our founding fathers never wanted a permanent, exorbitantly paid elite governing the rest of us. They wanted volunteers, people who were willing to forgo earning a fortune in the private sector to improve the quality of life for everybody.

Money should never be the deciding factor on whether anyone does public service.

Such a concept is foreign to Cappy and his cronies, though.

Instead, the black robed robbers clearly cut a secret deal with legislative leaders and Gov. Ed Rendell last year to get the raises, then cried foul when the angry public forced the pay hike's repeal in November.

To regain the extra money, the high court - sans Cappy, who recused himself after pushing hard for the initial raises - ignored both logic and commonsense. Thursday's ruling seized on an arcane portion of the state constitution and created a lawmaking conundrum. According to the justices, the Legislature has only the power to raise judge's salaries, not lower them.

The ruling marked the first time in years, though, that the injustices paid any attention to what the state constitution says.

In decision after decision, they've bypassed its provisions and the will of the public whenever it suited their purposes - often without any explanation and leaving no recourse for appeal.

A dozen years ago, justice Rolf Larsen - the only high court judge here ever impeached (because of his drug habit) after he spent more than 30 years on the bench - publicly accused other justices of trying to run him down in a car.

Now, they're running roughshod over the rest of us.

If that's the level of jurisprudence we're losing when old judges hang up their robes, then the quality of justice in this state may actually be improving.
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