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Pennsylvania Bar Association Opposes Bill to Reduce Number of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justices and Superior Court Judges

HARRISBURG (June 11, 2014) – The Pennsylvania Bar Association Board of Governors today voted unanimously to oppose Senate Bill 324, P.N. 2110, as amended, which in part, would reduce the number of Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices by two and the number of Superior Court judges by four.

"We oppose this legislation because the proposed reductions to the Pennsylvania Supreme and Superior courts would distress the current system, delay rulings and adversely impact access to justice for all Pennsylvanians, as well as cause inefficiencies in the administration of the entire commonwealth’s judicial system," said PBA President Francis X. O’Connor.

O’Connor said the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the oldest appellate court in the nation, addresses more than 3,000 requests for appellate review annually, administers the statewide Unified Judicial System composed of all appellate, common pleas and magisterial district courts, and oversees general rules governing, practice, procedure and conduct before all courts.

Reductions in the number of judges on the Pennsylvania Superior Court, one of the busiest courts in the nation, would have severe ramifications as well. In 1980, under Section 541 of Title 42 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, the legislature mandated the Superior Court to consist of 15 commissioned judges in response to increased workload.

"The Superior Court handles nearly 8,000 cases annually, which is more than 520 per judge," explained O’Connor. "Since this is the only court available to handle most appeals that deal directly with the citizenry, any reduction would greatly hinder efficiency and therefore adversely impact their access to justice."

"The PBA is committed to the fair and efficient administration of justice and opposes any attempt to encumber it such as SB 324, as amended, and any similar legislation that would impose undue hardship on the state’s Unified Judicial System and the citizens of Pennsylvania," said O’Connor.

Founded in 1895, the Pennsylvania Bar Association strives to promote justice, professional excellence and respect for the law; improve public understanding of the legal system; facilitate access to legal services; and serve the 27,000 lawyers who are members of the association.

Editor’s note: A copy of O’Connor’s letter to the Pennsylvania Senate is attached.



DATE: June 11, 2014
TO: The Senate
FROM: The Pennsylvania Bar Association

SUBJECT: Pennsylvania Bar Association Opposes Senate Bill 324, P.N. 2110

I write on behalf of the Pennsylvania Bar Association to ask you to oppose S.B. 324,P.N. 2110, sponsored by Senator Elder Vogel, as amended, which in part, would reduce the number of Supreme Court Justices by two and the number of Superior Court judges by four.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the oldest appellate court in the nation. Since 1874 the Pennsylvania Constitution has provided for seven Justices to address the issues most significant to the citizens of the Commonwealth. Additionally, the Justices address annually more than 3,000 requests for appellate review, administer the Unified Judicial System, and prescribe general rules governing practice, procedure, and conduct before all courts. The Court exercises plenary jurisdiction on matters of immediate public importance as well.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court is among one of the busiest courts in the nation. In 1980, under Section 541 of Title 42 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, the legislature mandated the Superior Court to consist of fifteen commissioned judges in response to increased workload. This Court handles nearly 8,000 cases annually, which is more than 520 per judge.

The proposed reductions to the Supreme Court would distress the current system, delay rulings and adversely impact access to justice, as well as cause inefficiencies in the administration of the entire Commonwealth judicial system. Furthermore, the smaller number of Justices would impact the variety of viewpoints and the diversity of backgrounds that contribute to the wisdom of the Court’s decisions. Superior Court reductions would have severe ramifications as well, as there are only fifteen commissioned judges to serve over 12 million Pennsylvania citizens. Since this is the only court available to handle most appeals that deal directly with the citizens, any reduction would greatly hinder efficiency and therefore adversely impact their access to justice.

The consequences of this proposal are serious, and we would urge the Senate to consider conducting caseload surveys, comparative analysis of the appellate court system’s workload, or other studies that would verify the significant concerns of the members of the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

Therefore, on behalf of the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s 27,000 members, we would like to request that you oppose Senate Bill 324, as amended. Thank you for considering our position on this matter. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact PBA’s Director of Legislative Affairs Fred Cabell at 717-525-1579 or fred.cabell@pabar.org.

Sincerely,
Francis X. O’Connor, President
Pennsylvania Bar Association