State Bar President Asks Voters to Judge the Judges Fairly on Election Day

HARRISBURG (Oct. 25, 2007) - Pennsylvania Bar Association President Andrew F. Susko today issued the following opinion piece to newspaper editors across Pennsylvania:

"Pennsylvania has seen a dramatic and memorable exercise in democracy these last two years. The people, angry over the 2005 pay raise bill, have gone to the polls, replaced their legislative leaders and demanded and won impressive reforms in legislative openness and accountability.

It is easy to imagine that the Founding Fathers would be pleased that their 220-year-old invention, this thing we call self-government, is fired up and running robustly and well.

But this year, it is important that this great creation not be used destructively to penalize experienced and qualified judges across Pennsylvania who are running for retention on the November ballot and who may be facing unjust campaign attacks.

Nearly 70 judges from the state Supreme Court to the county common pleas courts are seeking retention in the November election.

Some political activists have suggested that any judge who received the 2005 pay raise should be voted out of office. That is not only unfair, it is irresponsible. Judicial pay is set by law; none of the judges up for retention were involved in setting the pay increase or in the judicial opinion that the raise was constitutional. Article V, Section 16 (a) of our Constitution expressly prohibits reduction of judicial pay while a judge is in office. This protection is fundamental to an independent judiciary.

To suggest that voters cast ballots against judges on the basis of their pay undermines the system that Pennsylvania's Constitution provides for the reelection of judges.

Our nonpartisan retention system assumes that voters will evaluate judges fairly on their full records -- not on any single issue -- and vote "yes" to retain those who have served well and vote "no" to dismiss any who have not.

The Constitution never contemplated that voters would oust judges on the basis of judicial pay. Merit retention was created by the 1968 Constitutional Convention to keep judges out of the political fray, while holding them accountable to the voters based on their overall records and performance after a full term in office. It is a reelection system based strictly on individual merit.

If pay is a concern, pay established by law, then the question should be: Did the judge do a good job in office? If the answer is yes, then it is reasonable to conclude the judge is earning his or her salary.

Voters should evaluate judges on their full judicial records and not on a single legislative act or judicial decision. Judges should be evaluated on qualities such as integrity, competence, temperament, preparation for court, courtesy, attentiveness and the quality of their opinions and adherence to the rule of law. We encourage everyone to use the ratings of the Pennsylvania Bar Association's Judicial Evaluation Commission and county bar associations. We urge you to visit the www.PAVoteSmart.com Web site to get meaningful and credible information about the judicial retention candidates.

We all expect judges, as they sit in court day after day, to rule fairly in each and every case.

Don't we as voters, in turn, have a duty to judge the judges fairly? In a democracy, this is responsible behavior. It is a matter of good citizenship. And it is exactly what the Founders and framers of the Pennsylvania Constitution would expect."