Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Elected Judges

Seeing the retrospective on the tenure of Jim Motznik in the PG today  (WDUQ has it's own coverage as well) I remember a snippet from the NYT last week.  The now-former Councilman is off to a potentially long career (he is a pretty young guy) as a District Justice for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The prefered term these day is actually District Judge.. The NYT was reporting on how former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is in the news for her work starting up an inititive to push states away from electing judges which we do here for all judicial races... DJ to supreme court.

The thing that struck me if you read the article: the date her new initiative (the O’Connor Judicial Selection Initiative) started?  December 10th.  Just a coincidence that it is same day the future judge was in the news here with his comments on the tuition tax?

Coincidence or not.  I am not sure people appreciate how much his words reverberated when he made them... not just how deeply they hit anyone at all associated with the universities, but how far from here they were heard and that is before you mention any and all women who know about it.  I am almost sure they will live in a certain infamy.  I suspect that at least at a psychological level his comments had a real impact in how the universities addressed the whole tuition tax negotiations near the end.  Even if Justice O'Connor's initiative has no knowledge of what happened here... I bet that in the future it will be highlighted as a prime example of what electing judges gives you.

To that big picture... the debates over electing judges goes far beyond anything local and the new DJ will demonstrate his skills in his new job good or bad.  There is an argument that a lot of what constitutes the local docket for a DJ is the kind of facilitation that may indeed lend itself toward the skills honed as a councilperson.  Nonetheless, there will be a lot less of Jim in the news.  No 'boots'...    Rich was kind to mention neither his past opining on legal niceties, nor the whole Notznik blog episode, which at least was entertaining.  I suspect Jim will not be completely absent from the news in the future.

A lesser included issue on elected judges in Pennsylvania is their pay.   The legal beagles may have more insight here, but the way it has been explained to me is that some years ago the pay for District Justices went up.  So low that it really only made sense for lawyers to do as part time gigs... and they would have actual practices to make their core income.  Whether that was good or bad, the DJ pays was increased and I sense you have seen a distinct shift in who seeks those offices.   I really wonder if anyone has studied the labor market for Pennsylvania judges?

Just as an example, it will be a palpable raise in itself from the compensation of a city councilperson in Pittsburgh to District Justice. That and I presume Jim will be getting a city pension on top of his new state salary.  Even the counterfactual mayor Gene Riccardi voluntarily left his safe seat on council (and the city council presidency) for a DJ position.   Would either of them have done so if the pay was significantly less?


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