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

Thursday, September 14, 2006
Posted 10:23 PM by

Pa. judges give themselves a blank check

Pennsylvania Supreme Court injustices voted 5-1 to restore their own pay raise, even after the Legislature repealed it. Defying common sense and logic, the judges found lawmakers had the right to give them a pay hike, but not to take it away.Today will go down as a black day in Pennsylvania history, and I'm not talking about the weather. It will be known forever as the day thieves wearing black robes robbed state taxpayers blind.

That's because the state Supreme Court finally issued a 5-1 ruling today justifying their own illegal raises - and those of 1,000 other judges and magistrates across Pennsylvania - even though the law granting those pay hikes was overwhelmingly repealed last year by the Legislature.

Justice Ron Castille, who authored the 100-page majority opinion, noted that the "pecuniary interest implicated here would ordinarily require a judge to disqualify himself or herself from the matter."

But since no other court in America - including the entire federal court system - is legally allowed to sit in judgement, he claimd the justices were left with no choice by the "rule of necessity" to hear the three cases about the pay raise before them.

Two were from judges who demanded the extra money they had been promised. The other was from taxpayer advocate Gene Stilp, who sought to have the initial raises ruled unconstitutional.

Seizing on an arcane piece of law, the injustices decided: the Legislature has no right to cut judges' pay and can only vote to raise it, the initial law granting the raises was constitutional even though legislators failed to give it the required three days of public airing, the lawmakers violated the constitution by taking the pay raise early in "unvouchered expenses" but cannot be required to pay the money back.

Too bad the only court of last resort for this injustice is at the ballot box because Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices only have to stand for retention every 10 years.

By the time that rolls around for each of them, who is going to remember that in the process of restoring their own raises today, the black robed robbers violated the state's ethics law and the separation of powers clauses of the state constitution?

In case you do, please remember Castille and justices Sandra Schultz Newman, J. Michael Eakin, Max Baer, and Cynthia A. Baldwin voted to restore the raises.

The lone dissenting opinion was written by Justice Thomas G. Saylor.

Chief Justice Ralph J. Cappy, who masterminded the whole pay raise fiasco and wrote two articles about it which were cited in the majority opinion, recused himself - like the whole court should have done.


If what a lawyer for state Democrats said today in court is true, the Pennsylvania Green Party should turn its color to red - not for communism, but in embarrassment.

Nearly one third of the 94,000 signatures gathered on behalf of U.S. Senate candidate Carl Romanelli have been called into question.Attorney Clifford Levine told Commonwealth Court Judge James R. Kelley that 29,000 of the 94,000 nominating petition signatures gathered on behalf of U.S. Senate candidate Carl Romanelli are invalid because some were from fake names, others came from unregistered voters or were illegible.

If true. that would leave the Green Party candidate at least 2,900 short of the 67,070 signatures needed by a third-party candidate to get on the statewide ballot this year.

Kelley scheduled a Sept. 25 hearing to allow Romanelli's lawyer to present evidence supporting his contention that numerous signatures deemed invalid should be accepted.


State lawmakers are calling on the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to publicly release consultant PricewaterhouseCooper's report on how much money each of 14 proposed slot-machine gambling sites is expect to raise.

But chairman Tad Decker refuses to release the report before the board issues its decision on which applicants get licenses in a couple weeks, citing the state Open Records law as his reason.

I hate to say it, but Decker has a point here. Under that law, even though the report was paid for with tax money, it doesn't become a public record until the board uses it as the basis of its decision.

I've long been a proponent of rewriting that law and the state's Sunshine/Open Meetings law to make them make sense.

A secret state report now shows Pennsylvania slot machine parlors can't possibly make as much money as initially predicted.Instead, state Rep. Tom Tangretti, D-Westmoreland, said the Legislature should amend the state's slots law to force the disclosure if the gaming board does not do it voluntarily.

Pure genius.

Why should you give a damn about any of this?

A 23-page portion of the study obtained by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review projects that slot machines at The Meadows horse racing track in suburban Pittsburgh would make $118.8 million a year - less than half the $236.6 million projected by the owners of The Meadows.

That means the state stands little chance of making the $1 billion in projected revenue required to give the average Pennsylvania homeowner a $200 break in school property taxes, which was the selling point of legalizing slot machines in the first place.

How soon will it be then that those 13 slots parlors ask to become full fledged casinos?

Remember, I'm on record as predicting they start pushing for it within three years of the first license being issued.


Finally, some good news - at least for anybody who uses electricity in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Nosey New Jersey regulators nixed the proposed merger between Exelon and PSEG, which would have created the nation's largest electric company. Thanks New Jersey!Exelon and PSEG have scrapped their plans to become the nation's biggest electric company in an $18 billion merger after New Jersey regulators started asking too many damn questions about how it would eventually impact customers.

I wish Pennsylvania regulators, who are supposed to be promoting electric competition instead of a monopoly, had taken the time to be as thorough. But they pretty much approved it as the companies requested.
 |  0 comments  |  |  RSS Feed | Add to Technorati Favorites

This Week's Rants | The Daily Rant Archives

Creative Commons License
The Daily Rant by Dave Ralis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.