Wednesday, September 06, 2006

armchair lawyering

Is this legal quotation something in our future?
An ambiguous statute or ordinance is a dangerous thing. It is like a doctor's prescription which is half blurred, and, if an attempt is made to carry out its obscure directions, the haphazard cure may produce more havoc than the original illness. All the eminent counsel who argued the matter before us assumed that the Charter meant to say that the vacancy would be filled at the next election, municipal or general, whichever came first after the vacancy occurred, but the Charter does not say that.
no, this is from the PA supreme court and is Justice Musmanno's opinion in the case of Cali v. Philadelphia in 1962. He was commenting on confusing provisions in the Philadelphia City charter pertaining to when elections would be held when there is a vacancy in the office of the mayor (sound familiar). Then in Philly as now in Pittsburgh, there was confusion and consternation over when the election for mayors office would take place following the resignation of Richardson Dilworth in 1962.

You do have to love lawyers though. All last week Bill Green the Republican uber-pundit for political matters in town was telling the world that there would be a special election for mayor in the spring. I am sure he was not spouting that off without first hearing from some high powered lawyers in town. Aparently the lawyers in the City Law Department didn't get Bill's memo and have said not only that there will not be a special election in the spring, but that there will not be an election until 2009. Just a slight disconnect there.

For all those who are sure that the courts will clearly come down in favor of an election sooner rather than later. That same court decision basically nullified the inconsistent sections of the Philadelphia City Charter that specified when there would be an election. Once nullified, there was no provision for an election and Dilworth's successor went on to serve the full term. Hey, don't shoot the messenger... but it is a warning for those who think this is all best left to the courts to decide... they may get what they are asking for, yet not like the result.


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