Home » Pennsylvania Constitution in the News – 2006

Pennsylvania Constitution in the News – 2006

It was reported in the media on Thursday, 12/28/2006, that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court decision permitting Pittsburgh’s exercise of eminent domain in regard to the adult-themed Garden Theater.

Mario Cattabiani reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Friday, 12/8/2006, that Governor Ed Rendell has selected Richard Gmerek as his representative on the panel that will draft new lobbying rules for the legislature.  The story reported opposition to this choice on the ground that Gmerek was the plaintiff in the case that found the prior lobbying bill unconstitutional in 2002.  Pick for lobby panel killed previous law.

Jennifer Harr reported in the Herald Standard on Thursday, 11/30/2006, that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court dismissal of the newspaper’s lawsuit against Former State Representative Larry Roberts that had sought access to Roberts’ phone records.  The newspaper had raised claims under a common law right of access as well as equal protection.  Supreme court upholds ruling to dismiss suit against Roberts.

On Wednesday, 11/22/2006, it was widely reported in the media that just before adjourning the 2005-06 session, the General Assembly approved legislation allowing slot machine casinos to serve unlimited free drinks to gamblers from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week.  The free drinks provision was introduced without prior consideration.  Governor Ed Rendell later signed the bill into law.

The media reported on 11/18/2006 that Justice Sandra Schultz Newman is resigning from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court effective December 31, 2006.  Pursuant to Art. V, section 13 (b) of the State Constitution, a replacement appointment would serve until the “first Monday of January” 2008.  Justice Newman’s seat on the Court will be filled for a full ten-year term in the 2007 November election.

On Wednesday, November 8, 2006, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued two Per Curiam Orders in the pay raise case, Stilp v. Commonwealth, denying applications for reargument that had been filed by Gene Stilp and State Senator Robert Jubelirer.  There was no dissent and Chief Justice Cappy did not participate. One of the issues sought to be raised in reargument was whether State Judges would automatically receive future salary increases when Congress grants them to federal judges

It was widely reported in the media that, on Wednesday, November 1, Governor Rendell signed a bill amending Pennsylvania’s gambling law and a bill regulating legislative lobbying.  Since the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the prior lobbying regulation statute in 2002, Pennsylvania had been the only State without lobbying restrictions.

Brad Bumstead and Debra Erdley reported in the Tribune-Review that Superior Judge Joan Orie Melvin is suing the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts and the Office of State Treasurer for an injunction that would prevent her from being paid the increase in judicial salary that was upheld in Stilp v. Commonwealth.  Judge Sues to Refuse Pay Raise, 10/20/2006.

It was widely reported in the media that Superior Court Judge Joan Orie Melvin has asked the office of State Treasurer and the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts to not include the judicial pay raise in her salary affirmed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Stilp v Commonwealth and that both offices informed her that the full salary set by law had to be paid to her, though she was free to return any portion she wished.  Tax liability and pension benefits will be set according to the higher pay scale.  See e.g., Brad Bumsted and Debra Erdley, Court System Denies Judge’s Payback Offer, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 10/5/2006.

There is a great deal of continuing fallout from the decision in Stilp v. Commonwealth, which restored pay raises to Pennsylvania’s judges.  A story in The Legal Intelligencer by Asher Hawkins profiled actions of the Pennsylvania Commission on Judicial Independence, a group of “big-name judges, lawyers and academics from across the state” formed by the Supreme Court in October 2005, defending the decision.  Panel Has Low Profile, High Goal, 9/25/2006 TLI 1.  On September 26, 2006 Notre Dame Law Professor, John Nagle, whose 1994 law review article was relied upon in Justice Castille’s majority opinion, wrote an op-ed piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer criticizing the decision’s failure to enforce the non-severability clause in the original pay raise bill, which would have invalided all pay raises including those of the judiciary.  Distortion by the Court, 2006 WLNR 16631294.

Mark Scolforo of the Associated Press reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the Administrative Offices of Pennsylvania Courts regards the Stilp pay raise decision has “permanently linked future raises to the federal courts’ pay scale.”  The story also reported that State Treasury officials are still reviewing the ruling to determine if they agree with that interpretation.  Judges may cash in on more raises, 9/23/2006, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Duquesne University Law Professor, and President-elect of the Allegheny County Bar Association, Ken Gormley, current President and Judge Kim Berkeley Clark, and past-President and Director of Neighborhood Legal Services, Robert Racunas, wrote an op-ed piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, arguing that the formula linking Pennsylvania judicial salaries to federal Judicial salaries was reinstated by the Stilp pay raise court decision and that this formula constitutes a healthy and fair way to ensure adequate compensation for judges while retaining judicial independence from the political system.  Pay Raise Passions, 9/22/2006.

The media widely reported the decision in Stilp v. Commonwealth, decided 9/14/2006.  The decision upheld most of the 2005 government pay raise and most of the repeal of that pay raise.  Notably, the Court struck down unvouchered expense account increases for legislators in the original pay raise, but refused to apply the statute’s nonseverability clause.  Then the Court struck down the repeal of the pay raise for judges.  The effect of these rulings is that judges, and only judges, receive both an immediate pay raise and a change in the method of compensation that ties judicial salaries automatically to increases in federal judicial salaries in the future.  Justice Thomas Saylor, who is expected to run for retention in 2007, dissented on the nonseverability issue and would have struck down the entire pay raise, including the raise for judges.

The media widely reported the decision by Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. that taxpayer appellants must be given the opportunity to present evidence at property assessment appeals that the value of property has declined since the official base year, which is 2002 in Allegheny County.  The decision did not address whether taxing bodies would be permitted to appeal assessments based on increases in value since the base year, nor whether the resulting system violates the requirement of tax uniformity in Art. VIII, section 1 of the State Constitution.

Dave Davies, Street leery of Johnson’s parolee-search proposal, Philadelphia Daily News, 2006 WLNR 131011282, 7/29/2006, notes concerns by civil rights activists that proposals aimed at curbing Philadelphia’s escalating homicide rate may violate Art. I, section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Asher Hawkins, The Road to Nowhere: Judicial Merit Selection Bill on Ice Until 2007, 7/25/2006 Legal Intelligencer: reports that a merit selection bill limited to Philadelphia, which had been introduced a year ago as S.B. 100, died in the Senate Judiciary Committee and will be reintroduced in 2007.

U.S. District Judge Yvette Kane dismissed a federal lawsuit brought by Common Cause and others challenging the legality of last July’s pay raise.  The Judge was reported to have said that the issues underlying the lawsuit belong to the “political and electoral process”.  Some of the same legal issues contained in the federal suit are still pending in a separate case in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Patricia Sabatini reports in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Thursday, 6/8/2006 that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has granted review in a case brought by the Pennsylvania Bankers Association challenging the tax exempt status of credit unions as violative of the Pennsylvania Constitution.  State high court to hear case on status of credit unions.

It was widely reported in the media that the House of Representatives approved the proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution defining marriage and prohibiting state and local laws recognizing gay marriage or equivalent relationships.  For the text, see the Recent Amendment file on this website.  For the timing of the amendment process see Tom Barnes, Fissure widens in Pa. same-sex marriage debate, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Thursday, 6/8/2006.

Governor Rendell’s March 15, 2006 Notice of Veto of House Bill 1318, a bill which had required identification for voting under certain circumstances and had made other changes in Pennsylvania voting law, can be found in the Pennsylvania Bulletin online at www.pabulletin.com, 36 Pa.B. 1357.  Governor Rendell stated that elements of the bill violate Art. I, section 5 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Governor Rendell’s March 15, 2006 Notice of Veto of House Bill 1467, a bill which established a mandatory procedure for claiming damages or other relief against a contractor because of a construction defect in a dwelling, can be found in the Pennsylvania Bulletinonline at www.pabulletin.com, 36 Pa.B. 1359.  Governor Rendell stated that, based upon an attorney of Attorney General Tom Corbett, the bill violates the Pennsylvania Constitution.  Attorney General Corbett’s opinion, which is attached to the Notice of Veto, stated that the bill violates Art. III, section 18 and perhaps Art. V, section 10(c).

On Tuesday, May 30, 2006, Mark Scolforo of the Associated Press reported on reaction to the one sentence May 16th order of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which effectively rejected a 2002 amendment to the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law that would have allowed citizens to appeal to local magistrates rather than having to file suit in the courts of common pleas if they believed they were unfairly denied access to local government records.  Court bars district judges from public-records cases.

It was widely reported in the media that U.S. District Judge Yvette Kane announced on Friday, May 19, after hearing oral arguments, that she would rule within 3 weeks on motions to dismiss the federal lawsuit filed by Common Cause and other plaintiffs against the process by which the July pay raise bill was passed.

Tom Dochat reported on May 5, 2006 in the Patriot-News that Governor Ed Rendell signed two bills into law that are “designed to protect property owners from government seizures of property for the benefit of commercial developers”.  Senate Bill 881 prohibits the use of eminent domain to convey private property to commercial entitites unless the property is blighted.  House Bill 2054 addresses condemnation procedures and compensation.  Bill limits property seizures for commercial developers.

Asher Hawkins reports in The Legal Intelligencer on the first “State of the Court” report issued by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 20 years. Pa. Supreme Court Releases ‘State of the Court’ Report, 5/2/2006 Legal Intelligencer 1.

Although almost all of the coverage of the proposed marriage amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution has been letters to the editor, pro and con, there have also been news stories covering the proposal.  See Anne Dobson, Gay-marriage bill could face Pa. vote, DailyPennsylvanian.com, 4/14/2006.

Diane Mastrull and Amy Worden report in the Philadelphia Inquirer on final Pennsylvania Senate approval of restrictions on the use of eminent domain.  Limits for Pa.’s eminent domain, 4/26/2006.

Brad Bumstead reports in the Tribune Review on Tuesday, 4/25/2006, concerning the ruling by Commonwealth Court that the Pennsylvania Auditor General lacks authority under the State Constitution to conduct an audit of the Legislature’s discretionary spending account.  Court defeats audit.

Bob Warner reported in the Philadelphia Daily News–www.philly.com–that former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Russell Nigro is considering running for the Court’s open seat in the 2007 election, “I’m probably more inclined to run than not to run…Part of it is that so many people have told me I got screwed.”  Nigro mulls new high court run. 4/11/2006.

Brad Bumstead reported in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review on the April 4, 2006 arguments in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concerning the repeal of last summer’s pay raise.  $21,000 conflict facing judges, 4/5/2006.

It was widely reported on Thursday, March 16, 2006, that Governor Rendell imposed lobbyist disclosure rules by executive order on persons seeking to lobby executive branch officials.  Pennsylvania’s lobbyist disclosure law was overturned by the State Supreme Court in  2002 as a violation of the court’s exclusive power to regulate the practice of law.  Since then the State Senate has been the only branch of government in Pennsylvania to regulate lobbyists.

An editorial in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review on Thursday, March 16, 2006, criticized the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for ignoring Art. I, section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution in issuing an order allowing the Attorney General’s Office to examine four Lancaster Newspapers Inc. computers. The investigation involves allegations that Lancaster Coroner G. Gary Kirchner gave his password to reporters with the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal. No criminal charges have been filed against anyone in the case.

It was widely reported in the media on Tuesday, March 7, 2006 that a brief filed in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court by State Treasurer Bob Casey conceded that the pay raise passed by the legislature in July 2005 violated sections of the Pennsylvania Constitution.  Casey is a defendant in a lawsuit challenging the pay raise filed by Gene Stilp, which is now pending in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Tracie Mauriello wrote a feature story about Judge Cynthia Baldwin’s ascension to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in the Post-Gazette on February 27, 2006.  New Justice Still Excited by the Law.  [Judge Baldwin is one of two Duquesne Law graduates on the court; Justice Max Baer is also a graduate.]

On Thursday, February 16, 2006, Brian O’neill wrote a column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette examining the relationship of the dismissal of the legislative pay raise case in Commonwealth Court and the grant of increased pension benefits to Senior Judge James Kelley, the author of that dismissal. Judicial Arrogance and the Pay Raise. For further information, see the Commentary section of this web page.

It was widely reported in the media that the State Judicial Conduct Board, the prosecuting body for judicial conduct complaints, unanimously dismissed a complaint against Chief Justice Ralph Cappy concerning his actions in discussing and advocating pay raises for the three branches of State government.  The Board dismissed the complaint on December 6, but announced the dismissal on February 13, at the request of the Chief Justice.

Amy Worden and Mario Cattabiani reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Saturday, 2/4/2006, that House Speaker John M. Perzel asked the state Supreme Court for help in drafting a lobbying regulation bill that would withstand a constitutional challenge: Perzel seeks top court help on lobbying law.

It was widely reported today in the media that Common Cause filed an amended complaint in its federal lawsuit against the pay raise alleging that in 1999 legislators traded court funding for court approval of legislation.

Selection of Pennsylvania judges is in the news. On Friday, January 27, 2006, it was reported that Senate Majority Whip Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin, will not vote to confirm Judge Cynthia Baldwin to the State Supreme Court unless she resigns as Chair of Penn State’s Board of Directors. Senator Piccola also wants Chief Justice Cappy to resign as Chair of the University of Pittsburgh Board of Directors. Also on Friday, in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli attacked renewed efforts to replace election of judges in Pennsylvania with merit selection.

Tom Barnes reports in the Post-Gazette on Wednesday, January 4, 2006, Pay Raise Foes Push for other Reforms, that a coalition of citizens groups is proposing a series of reforms for the legislature to enact in 2006, including the possibility of a constitutional convention in 2007 to reduce the size of the legislature among other possible changes to the State Constitution.

It was widely reported in the media that on Tuesday, January 3, 2006, Gene Stilp, whose lawsuit against the legislative pay raise was recently granted King’s Bench review by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, filed suit in Commonwealth Court challenging the compensation of legislators based primarily on the following language from Article II section 8: “The members of the General Assembly shall receive such salary and mileage for regular and special sessions as shall be fixed by law, and no other compensation whatever, whether for service upon committee or otherwise.”