On December 31, 2015, Steve Esack of the The Morning Call reported that the Commonwealth Court agreed to hear Claude Thomas’s appeal in his suit against Kathleen Kane. Thomas appealed the lower court’s decision that Kane had absolute immunity from libel and slander claims afforded by her elected position. The court will consider whether absolute immunity can be a defense when the claim arises out of the state official’s scope of authority and employment, in part because Thomas sued Kane in her “personal capacity” and not as a public official. Thomas’s right to “a name-clearing hearing against a state official in her personal capacity only” under the Pennsylvania Constitution will also be determined.
See Kathleen Kane’s absolute immunity challenged in court
On December 29, 2015, Karen Langley and Mary Niederberger of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Wolf, signed into law much of the state-spending plan. This action relieved financial pressure for Pennsylvania schools. It also provided funding amounts for county child welfare, rape crisis and homeless assistance. Governor Wolf approved $23.39 billion of the spending, and struck the remainder of the $30.26 billion through line-item vetoes. Governor Wolf reasoned that the budget did not provide for the appropriate level of funding.
See Gov. Wolf vetoes parts of ‘garbage’ budget, lets school funds flow
On December 24, 2015 Angela Coulumbis of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline decided on January 22 to suspend Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin for his involvement in a pornographic and offensive email scandal. The court stated that the emails have “tainted the Pennsylvania judiciary in the eyes of the public.” The suspension will remain in effect until the court decides, at a full trial, whether Eakin violated judicial conduct rules.
See Justice Eakin Suspended Over Emails
On December 22, 2015, Chris Potter of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Allegheny Court of Common Pleas Judge Joseph James struck down two Pittsburgh labor ordinances as violating state law that “prohibits … municipalities, like Pittsburgh, from regulating businesses by determining their ‘duties, responsibilities, or requirements.’ ” Judge James cited to a 2009 state Supreme Court decision that overturned another Pittsburgh employment ordinance. One ordinance that was struck down required city businesses to grant 1 hour of sick leave for every 35 hours an employee worked. The other ordinance that was struck down required security workers in many buildings to receive training in CPR and other safety procedures.
See Judge rejects as ‘unenforcable’ two Pittsburgh labor ordinances
On December 9, 2015, Angela Coulumbis of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Senate panel that was assigned to determine whether to begin the process of removing Attorney General Kathleen Kane from office voted unanimously to put before the full Senate a measure to do so.
See Measure To Remove Kane To Go To Full Senate
On November 28, 2015, Chris Palmer of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court removed Judge Barry F. Feudale from his status as a senior judge. A letter from the Court to Feudale cited that they were “deeply concerned” with his judgment and behavior in regard to emails he sent to Inquirer reporters after Attorney General Kane had successfully petitioned to have him removed as the supervising grand jury judge.
See Supreme Court removes judge in Kane feud
On November 25, 2015, Paul J. Gough of the Pittsburgh Business Times’ reported that a 5-2 vote of the Special Committee on Senate Address has found sufficient basis to move forward with Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s removal, providing due notice and a full hearing. The Special Committee found that the Senate has jurisdiction to remove Attorney General Kane under Article VI, Section 7, of the Pennsylvania Constitution. After due notice and full hearing, Governor Wolf may remove Attorney General Kane after a two-thirds approval vote by the Senate.
Pennsylvania Office of Atty. Gen. v. Philadelphia Inquirer, — A.3d —, 2015 WL 7294367 (Pa. Cmmw. Ct. Nov. 19, 2015): per Pellegrini, P.J., the court, sitting en banc, held that the requested, allegedly, pornographic emails were not “records of the agency” because the subject matter did not relate to the agency’s operations, and therefore were not subject to the Right To Know Law requests. Leadbetter, J., dissented and wrote that if communications regarding a specific subject matter are shown to be “pervasive and widespread” in the agency, then they may reach the level of being an activity of the agency, a burden the requestor would have to carry.
On November 17, 2015, Bean Seal of The Legal Intelligencer reported that the combined House Bill 89 and 90 passed in the Senate on Monday November 16, 2015. The Bill, which would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution by raising the mandatory judicial retirement age from 70 to 75, will appear on the April 26, 2016 primary election for voter approval.
See Judicial Retirement Age Heads Toward Public Vote
On November 12, 2015, Lizzy McLellan of The Legal Intelligencer reported that a group of former Office of Attorney General employees, including Frank Fina, and former Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan, filed suit against Kane and the Philadelphia Daily News on Thursday November 12th in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The complaint alleges that Kane retaliated against them and that it resulted in defamation. Attorney for the plaintiff’s stated that his clients were “punished for speaking up about Kane’s illegal activity.”
See Fina, Costanzo Sue Kane, Daily News
On November 11, 2015, Brad Bumsted of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that Kathleen Kane blamed her press secretary, Churck Ardo, for comments about a potential leak of grand jury material that led to Judge Cleland’s order for Attorney Kane to show cause why those comments did not involve the Sandusky grand jury. Kane stated that those were the words of her press secretary and not hers, and that she did not know why he said that. When Ardo was asked about the situation he said, “I think it exposes the challenge of speaking for the Attorney General’s Office at this point in time.”
See Kane Blames Press Secretary For Comment About Sandusky Leak
On November 6, 2015, Ben Seal of The Legal Intelligencer reported that Attorney General Kathleen Kane told the Special Committee, which was established to determine whether she can still carry out her duties, that they “do not have jurisdiction and cause for inquiry, requests, subpoenas for records of the Office of Attorney General, statements, memos, etc..” She also stated that the committee does not have constitutional standing to remove her from office. Kane argues that “the direct address removal process was placed into the constitution to deal only with issues of incapacity, such as senility or long-term illness.”
See Kane Says Senate Committee Lacks Inquiry Authority
On November 4, 2015, Matt Stroud of the Pittsburgh Business Times reported that Pennsylvania’s Grant Township filed a Motion for Reconsideration of Western District of Pennsylvania District Court Magistrate Judge Susan Baxter’s ruling. On October 13, 2015, Judge Baxter invalidated several elements of a Grant Township ordinance that attempted to ban the disposal of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing activities and prohibit the right to challenge the ordinance in court. Judge Baxter’s ruling stated specifically that the Township exceeded its legislative authority under Pennsylvania’s Second Class Township Code when it instituted a Community Bill of Rights Ordinance against injection wells. On Tuesday, November 3, the township voted to re-designate itself under Pennsylvania’s Home Rule Charter in an attempt to circumvent the decision, likely spurring more litigation.
See This town hates frack waste so much it refuted a federal judge’s ruling and adopted a new charter to ban it
On November 4, 2015, the PR Newswire reported that Kenneth Gormley, Dean of Duquesne University School of Law, will become Duquesne University’s new President. Calling this appointment “the greatest honor imaginable,” Gormley looks forward to “raising the prominence of Duquesne’s programs to national and international levels” and continuing his successful fundraising. Gormley earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh and law degree from Harvard Law School. A leading constitutional scholar, Gormley has been extensively published, which has earned him national acclaim. He is the principal editor of “The Pennsylvania Constitution: A Treatise on Rights and Liberties” (Bisel 2004), the definitive treatise on the Pennsylvania Constitution that has been cited widely by every court in the state. He will assume his new role on July 1, 2016.
See PR Newswire, Kenneth G. Gormley Named 13th President of Duquesne University
On November 2, 2015, Lizzy McLellan and Max Mitchell of The Legal Intelligencer reported that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s special counsel advised the Court not to take immediate action in the new review of Justice Eakin’s offensive emails. The special counsel recommended that the Court defer to the Judicial Conduct Board for further review.
See Report: Supreme Court Should Defer to JCB on Eakin Emails
On October 31, 2015, Joseph Sabino Mistick wrote to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review to comment on the effect that legislative reapportionment could have on the upcoming Pennsylvania Supreme Court election. Because three seats are open, Democrats have an opportunity to “take control of the legislative reapportionment process, affecting which party controls the General Assembly [which] then redraws Pennsylvania’s congressional lines.” This potential shift could mean that the Democrats would have greater influence over the laws of Pennsylvania in the legislature and again as final arbitrator in the state Supreme Court.
See A Most Important Vote
On October 30, 2015, Angela Couloumbis and Craig R. McCoy of The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that four of the top lawyer’s in the Office of Attorney General wrote a letter to Attorney General Kathleen Kane disagreeing with her decision to continue running the office. Her deputies are concerned that her continued role could hurt the office and undermine cases. Chuck Ardo, spokesman for Kane, continues to believe that most of the work she does is “administrative and ministerial” and not the work of a lawyer.
See Kane’s top deputies urge her to delegate key duties
On October 29, 2015, P.J. D’Annunzio and Gina Passarella of The Legal Intelligencer reported that ethics experts that have reviewed emails between former supervising grand-jury Judge Barry Feudale and two Philadelphia Inquirer reporters do not believe that their were any ethical or grand-jury violations because there was no evidence that sealed information was ever sent and the emails themselves do not appear to improperly divulge any secret information.
See Ethics Attorneys See No Clear Violations in Feudale Emails
On October 29, 2015, Max Mithcell of The Legal Intelligencer reported that Attorney General Kathleen Kane has been given a week to show cause why statements she made on Wednesday the 28th, accusing the judge who oversaw the Sandusky grand-jury of colluding to leak secret information to the press does not involve the Sandusky case. Deputy attorney general Jennifer Peterson noted that her understanding of Kane’s comments was that it related to Kane’s ouster of Feudale, and not to the grand jury investigating Sandusky that Feudale presided over.
See Kane’s Statements Focus of Sandusky Hearing
On October 27, 2015, Ben Seal of The Legal Intelligencer reported that House Bill 1336, which would create a 13-member nominating commission to suggest candidates for the Pennsylvania Supreme, Superior and Commonwealth courts to the governor, will receive a full House vote after being passed in the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on October 20. Representative Bryan Cutler said that the combination of “judicial scandals and heavy campaigning” has created the right environment for the merit selection discussion. The bill would require an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution, meaning it would have to be approved in two consecutive legislative sessions and then pass a public vote in a general election.
See Is Now the Time for Merit Selection to Pass?
On October 23, 2015 Lizzy McLellan and Ben Seal of The Legal Intelligencer reported that the Pennsylvania Senate has initiated proceedings to remove Attorney General Kathleen Kane from office. The Senate has created a bipartisan special committee tasked with assessing whether Kane is able to perform the functions of Attorney General. After the committee reports on their findings, the Senate will decide whether to take further action under Article VI, Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which allows for removal “for reasonable cause”.
See Pa. Senate Starts Kane Removal Process
On October 22, 2015, Lori Falce of the Centre Daily Times reported that attorneys for Centre County have appealed injunctions that were put in place in May regarding Right to Know Law requests relating to the District Attorney’s office. The county’s attorneys argue that language of the Pennsylvania Constitution among other sources indicate that the District Attorney’s office is not a judicial agency and therefore the requests should be granted.
See Centre County challenges judge’s orders regarding phone records
On October 22, 2015, Lizzy McLellan of The Legal Intelligencer reported that a provision in the Pennsylvania Code might bar Attorney General Kathleen Kane from continuing to run the Office of Attorney General in lieu of her suspended law license. Ellen C. Brotman of Griesling Law said that Rule 217(j)(4) in Title 204, Chapter 83 of the Pennsylvania Code prohibits formerly admitted attorneys from “performing any law-related activity for a law firm, organization or lawyer if the formerly admitted attorney was associated with that law firm or lawyer on or after the date on which the acts which resulted in the disbarment or suspension occurred, through and including the effective date of disbarment or suspension.” Office of Attorney General spokesman Chuck Ardo maintains the Kane “is on solid legal ground in both staying in office and limiting her activity to matters that don’t require an active law license.”
See Pa. Code May Block Kane From Continuing as AG
On October 20, 2015, P.J. D’Annunzio of The Legal Intelligencer reported that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted the Disciplinary Board’s report and recommendation and disbarred former Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Thomas Nocella. Nocella was removed from office more than two years ago.
See Ex-Judge Nocella Disbarred by State Supreme Court
On October 20, 2015 Lizzy McLellan and Ben Seal of The Legal Intelligencer reported that the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board released the letter that it sent to Justice Michael Eakin following its review of his emails that concluded on December 19, 2014. The Board had concluded that “a handful of mildly pornographic emails” did not violate the Pennsylvania Constitution or the Code of Judicial Conduct and that judges are entitled to some measure of privacy. The Board has clarified that their review was based on an incomplete collection of Justice Eakin’s emails.
See Little Second-Guessing Over JCB’s 2014 Letter to Eakin
On October 13, 2015, the National Law Review reported that various Pittsburgh businesses and trade groups have filed a declaratory judgment action against the city challenging their new “sick leave law,” which passed in August. The lawsuit argues that the law violates the Pennsylvania Constitution.
See State Law Update! Sick Leave Saga Continues…. Also, D.C. Paid Family Leave, Colorado Makes A Few Changes and Oregon Bans The Box
On October 13, 2015 Max Mitchell of The Legal Intelligencer reported that Justice Michael Eakin has apologized for his involvement in an exchange of offensive emails and is cooperating fully with multiple reviews of his conduct.
See Justice Eakin Apologizes for Emails
On October 12, 2015, Max Mitchell and Lizzy McLellan of The Legal Intelligencer reported that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has said that its recent review of offensive emails included material that was not included in the review it conducted last year. The Judicial Conduct Board confirmed in a statement that the new material it received was not made available by the OAG in the previous review. A spokesman for the office of Attorney General disputes that anything was withheld. The spokesman went on to say, “The only emails that the Supreme Court now has that were not available to it last year are ones that fell outside the timeframe that the court itself established. It requested all emails between January 2008 and December 2012 and the Office of Attorney General provided access to all those emails.”
See Supreme Court Says OAG Withheld Eakin Emails
On October 5, 2015, Max Mitchell and Lizzy McLellan ofThe Legal Intelligencer reported that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court hired Pittsburgh firm Del Sole Cavanaugh Stroyd, the same firm that represented Kane when she challenged the grand jury investigating her, to review the contents of numerous allegedly offensive emails linked to Justice Michael Eakin.
See Justices Hire Firm That Represented Kane to Review Eakin Emails
On October 5, 2015, Gina Passarella and Lizzy McLellan of The Legal Intelligencer reported that the former deputy attorney general, James P. Barker, who was fired by Attorney General Kane, has sued her. Barker was fired shortly after he testified against Kane in grand jury proceedings and is alleging that she defamed him and retaliated against him.
See Former OAG Appellate Chief Sues Kane for Defamation
On September 27, 2015, Jim Hook of the Public Opinion (Chambersburg, PA), reported that the Pennsylvania Turnpike was turning 75 years old. His article highlights how the Pennsylvania Turnpike was created and points out that it began as a toll road because the “Pennsylvania Constitution prohibited the commonwealth from incurring more than $1 million in bonded debt without a referendum.”
See PA Turnpike – the nation’s first superhighway – turns 75 Thursday
On September 21, 2015, Mark Guydish of the Times Leader (Northeastern Pennsylvania), reported that the Wilkes-Barre area school district, among other areas, has filed an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in the Penn School District et al. v. Department of Education et al., school funding case. The commonwealth court had previously ruled that the political question doctrine precluded judicial review of challenges to the public school funding scheme. The present appeal argues that the political question doctrine “is a narrow exception to the general rule that Pennsylvania’s constitution should be construed, when possible, to permit . . . review of legislative action alleged to be unconstitutional.”
See Group that includes W-B Area School District appeals funding lawsuit to state’s top court
On September 30, 2015 Lizzy McLellan and Max Mitchell of The Legal Intelligencer reported that the order suspending Attorney General Kathleen Kane has left many questioning whether it was proper. In his remarks to the press, Chief Justice Saylor said, “the court has no ability to remove the attorney general [and that] those removal provisions are vested to the political branches.” Former Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille disagrees and believes that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court should have decided whether Kane could or could not serve as Attorney General because he believes it is a legal question. Others argue that the Court is dealing with issues that are actually before the Court and is not trying to overreach.
See Saylor’s Comments Raise More Questions Over AG Kane’s Fate
On September 28, 2015, Brad Bumsted of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported on Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Saylor’s comments to the Pennsylvania Press Club. Saylor noted that the court considered Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s conduct as a lawyer and not her pending criminal case when it decided to suspend her. Saylor also stated that the order to suspend Kane and allow her to continue as Attorney General “worked out the way it did” and was not the product of any deal between the Republican and Democratic Justices.
See Chief Justice: No partisan deal to forge unanimous opinion for Kane’s suspension
On September 21, 2015, Karen Langley of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that a unanimous Pennsylvania Supreme Court suspended the law license of Attorney General Kathleen Kane. The order specifically stated that it “should not be construed as removing [Kane] from elected office,” and is limited to the suspension of her law license. A spokesman for Kane stated that she will continue to serve as an administrator. The suspension won’t take place for 30 days, in this case, October 21.
See Attorney general vows to stay in office despite suspension of her law license
See also AG Kane law license suspension delayed for 30 days, her spokesman says
On September 8, 2015, Lizzy McLellan of the Legal Intelligencer reported that in response to the petition seeking to suspend her law license, Attorney General Kane told the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that such action would be a due process violation. Kane argues that none of the allegations in the petition were true.
See Kane: Suspension Petition Violates Due Process Rights
On August 28, 2015, Angela Couloumbis and Craig R. McCoy of The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the state disciplinary board had notified Attorney General Kane that it is seeking an emergency suspension of her law license. She has 10 days to show cause why the suspension should not be entered. The PA Supreme Court will then decide if the suspension should be upheld. Article IV, Section 5 of the Pennsylvania Constitution requires that the Attorney General be a member of the bar of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
See High court panel seeks to suspend Kane’s law license
On August 28, 2015, Lizzy McLellan of the Legal Intelligencer reported that the Office of Attorney General plans on continuing its appeal to the Commonwealth Court over a public records request for “inappropriate emails” between government officials. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued orders unsealing several filings and exhibits, which included some of the communications. Attorney General Kane says there are additional materials that were never submitted to the Supreme Court and that she “instructed [her] office to continue its RTKL appeal in Commonwealth Court solely for the purpose of seeking guidance with respect to the release of any materials covered by the outstanding RTKL requests that [were] not released by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court yesterday.”
See Kane to Continue Appeal on Request for Emails
On August 19, 2015, Lizzy McLellan of the Legal Intelligencer reported that the State Supreme Court, in response to Attorney General Kane’s request, has unsealed orders relating to her underlying cases; Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General v. Supervising Judge of the Thirty-Fifth Statewide Investigating Grand Jury and In re The Thirty-Fifth Statewide Investigating Grand Jury. The purpose for the sealed orders was to “”prevent the intimidation, obstruction and/or retaliation, in the ordinary sense of the words … [and] was never intended to prevent the [Office of Attorney General] from carrying out its constitutional duties.”
See Supreme Court Unseals Orders in Kane Case
On August 13, 2015, Lizzy McLellan of the Legal Intelligencer reported that Attorney General Kathleen Kane addressed the media on Wednesday and called for the release of “the offensive emails that were housed on the Attorney General’s servers.” Kane believes that the events that led to her charges stem from a group of state prosecutors and judges that shared the offensive and pornographic emails. She said that a grand jury protective order stands in the way of her releasing the offensive emails and the names of those who exchanged them.
See Kane: Criminal Charges Stem From Porn Emails
On August 14, 2015 the Legal Intelligencer’s editorial board reported that since Attorney General Kane will not resign, and because impeachment, disbarment or suspension could take months or years, Article VI, Section 7 of Pennsylvania’s Constitution provides an expeditious way to remove Kane. Section 7 provides that “[a]ll civil officers elected by the people . . . shall be removed by the governor for reasonable cause, after due notice and hearing, on the address of two-thirds of the Senate.” The editorial board believes that a hearing before the Senate to determine “reasonable cause” could be completed in one or two days.
See The Constitutional Procedure to Remove Kane From Office
On August 7, 2015, Lizzy McLellan of the Legal Intelligencer reported that Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane has been charged with perjury, conspiracy, obstructing justice, official oppression and false swearing stemming from an investigation that began more than a year ago in connection with the release of confidential information from a grand jury investigation, as well as false statements before the grand jury. Governor Wolf has requested that Kane “step aside . . . while she’s facing these serious charges.”
See Kane Charged With Leaking Grand Jury Information
On October 2, 2015, Jeremy Roebuck of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal from a Pennsylvania death row inmate. Terrance Williams, who was convicted in 1984, argues that it was a violation of due process and the Eighth Amendment for former Chief Justice Castille to deny the motion to recuse himself from consideration of Williams’ petition for post conviction relief in 2014. Castille was the Philadelphia District Attorney when Willliams was convicted.
See U.S. Supreme Court agrees to scrutinize Castille’s role in death-row inmate’s case,
On September 29, 2015, Ben Seal of The Legal Intelligencer reported that the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review cannot prohibit suspended attorneys from representing claimants before unemployment referees. The decision came from a divided three-judge panel of the commonwealth court on September 21. The court relied on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court case Harkness v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, which held that non-lawyers are permitted to represent individuals in a unemployment compensation hearings because they are “largely routine and the nature of the proceedings is remedial” and therefore “a non-lawyer representing an individual in such a hearing is not engaging in the practice of law.”
See Board Can’t Keep Claimant From Using Suspended Lawyer
On September 10, 2015 the American Bar Association reported that it filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in support of a suit by the Luzerne County public defender’s office. The suit claims that underfunding to the office has “resulted in violations of the rights of the defendants and the class they seek to represent to effective counsel under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution.” The brief urges recognition of a prospective remedy in the form of a cause of action for constructive denial of counsel.
See ABA Asks Pennsylvania High Court to Recognize Claim for Denial of Counsel for Indigent Defendants
On August 26, 2015, Karen Langley and Kate Giammarise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that an attempt by Pennsylvania House Republicans to override portions of Governor Wolf’s budget veto failed to garner enough votes. Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Adolph stated that the budget lines being voted on had been agreed to by Governor Wolf and the Republicans. However, Governor Wolf vetoed the budget in whole and Democrats argue that the General Assembly cannot override a portion of a veto that applied to a full budget.
See Plan to override state budget fails
On August 21, 2015, Patty Tascarella of the Pittsburgh Business Times reported that Pennsylvania’s budget impasses does not pose a threat to the ratings on the state’s outstanding debt. Fitch ratings service stated that Pennsylvania’s constitution requires its General Obligation bonds to be paid even in the absence of a budget.
See Five Things to Know Today as US Airways Passes Over Pittsburgh One Final Time
On August 18, 2015, Adam Brandolph of the Pittsburgh-Tribune Review reported that in an order dated August 14, 2015, the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline officially removed former Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin from office and held that she is ineligible for future judicial office. The Court of Judicial Discipline suspended Melvin’s pay in August 2012 and six months later she was found guilty of four felony counts for using her Superior Court staff to advance her political campaign in 2003 and 2009. Melvin’s appeal of her sentence was dropped in October 2014, and she was disbarred from the federal bench in February 2015.
See Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline officially removes Joan Orie Melvin from Supreme Court seat
On August 17, 2015, Dylan Segelbaum of the York Daily Record reported that District Judge Jeff Joy was suspended without pay one week after he was criminally charged with indecent assault, official oppression and harassment after the Pennsylvania State Police said he sexually harassed a woman who appeared in his courtroom. Bribery and additional charges were added after another woman came forward. The Pennsylvania Constitution allows the Court of Judicial Discipline to suspend judges charged with felonies with or without pay.
See Judge Jeff Joy, Accused of Groping Woman, Suspended Without Pa
On August 15, 2015, Colin McNickle of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported on the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) recent purchase of the downtown Pittsburgh former Saks Fifth Avenue department store. The URA bought the building for $7 million but will sell it to Millcraft Investments (Millcraft) and McKnight Realty Partners (McKnight) for $2.25 million. Millcraft and McKnight plan to use the space for a $35.5 million parking garage with condos and apartments above and street-level retailers. URA will also lend Millcraft and McKnight $7 million to be paid back over a 21year span. The deal, McNickle writes, is most disadvantageous to the public, because 75% of the parking tax paid at the new garage will go toward repaying the loan. McNickle questions the validity of the deal because the URA is an independent agency of the commonwealth and is using public dollars to fund the loan. Article VIII, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution states that “[t]he credit of the commonwealth shall not be pledged or loaned to any individual, company, corporation or association.” Taxpayers, McNickle argues, “have no business underwriting any business.”
See Taxpayers Played for Rubes (Again)
On August 3, 2015, Robert Zullo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that challenges are expected in response to Pittsburgh City Council’s recent approval of a law that requires all employers within the city to provide paid sick leave. The city solicitor says the ordnance violates the Home Rule Charter, which disallows municipalities from “determining duties, responsibilities or requirements placed upon businesses.”
See Challenges expected to paid sick leave law
On July 27, 2015, the Green Party announced its support for the July 24th Federal Court ruling that declared Pennsylvania’s ballot access procedures as unconstitutional. The current system requires a “disproportionate number of voter signatures [for third party candidates], compared to the requirement for major parties.” The Green, Libertarian, and Constitution Parties have long held the Pennsylvania’s current system violates the Pennsylvania Constitution, which states “elections must be free and equal.”
See Green Party Hails Federal Court Ruling Concerning Pennsylvania’s Restrictive Ballot Access
On July 8, 2015, Representative Keller announced that he would be reintroducing legislation that aims to better enforce the state’s preemption over local firearms and ammunition regulations. He clarified that while Act 192, which as previously reported was found to be unconstitutional, and his bill contains the same language, Act 192 was struck down based on violations of the original purpose rule and the single subject rule. As such, the substance of his bill should not be called into question. He argued that section 6120 of the Crimes Code, which prohibits local regulation of firearms, implements the constitutional right to bear arms provided under Article 1, Section 21 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The legislation would allow for any party challenging an illegal firearm ordinance to collect attorney fees and costs associated with the challenge from the offending jurisdiction.
See Pennsylvania State Legislature Memoranda: Preemption Bill
On July 5, 2015, Colin McNickle of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review criticized Governor Wolf for vetoing a bill that that would allow for the privatization of liquor sales in Pennsylvania and end the state’s monopoly on the same. McNickle argues that Article VIII, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution forbids the Commonwealth from having any ownership in a private enterprise.
See The Economics of Ignorami
On June 29, 2015, it was reported that a Joint Resolution to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution and expand the constitutionally provided homestead exclusion would soon be introduced. The amendment would increase the homestead exclusion from one-half of the median assessed value of all homestead property within a local taxing jurisdiction to the entire assessed value.
See Pennsylvania State Legislature Memoranda: Joint Resolution: Homestead Exemption Increase
On June 24, 2015, it was reported that Senate Bill 877 received unanimous support from the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee. The Bill would eliminate “spot appeals” of property assessments based solely on the sale of the property.
See Senate Bill 877
On June 15, 2015, Brad Bumsted of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review reported that Col. Marcus Brown withdrew his name from consideration for Commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police. This ended the question as to whether Governor Wolf would resubmit Brown’s name for congressional approval. Wolf said that Brown will act as Commissioner until he selects another nominee.
See Brown withdraws name from consideration to lead Pa. state police
On June 16, 2015, House Bill 1336, a constitutional amendment to change the way appellate judges are selected, was introduced. The amendment would provide for merit selection of appellate judges rather than by election.
See House Bill 1336
In re Commonwealth’s Motion to Appoint Counsel Against or Directed to Defender Association of Philadelphia, — F.3d —, 2015 WL 3634888 (3d Cir. June 12, 2015): per Fuentes, C.J., the Third Circuit approved the use of federal public defenders in state post-conviction relief appeals. The court held that the disqualification proceedings brought against the Federal Community Defender were preempted and must be dismissed.
On June 5, 2015, it was reported in The Times Leader (Wilkes-Bare, Pa) that two candidates for Luzerne County Council, Mark Rabo and John Gadomski, would not be able to serve if they were elected because of eligibility requirement set by the county. The two candidates are arguing that the restriction is unconstitutional. However, the solicitor maintains the position that the Pennsylvania Constitution allows home rule counties to set eligibility requirements for its office holders.
See Luzerne County Solicitor: Two council candidates can’t serve if elected
On June 2, 2015, it was reported that State Senator John Blake joined a group of legislators from both the Senate and House of Representatives that will work to reform the way legislative and Congressional districts are drawn. Senate Bill 662 was introduced earlier this year by Blake, which proposes to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to remove legislators from direct approval or rejection of any redistricting plans.
See Senate Bill 662
On May, 18, 2015, Jennifer Learn-Andes of the Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pa) reported that three Exeter Township supervisors and a former supervisor face charges of public record tampering and unsworn falsification to authorities over their alleged mishandling of grant funds for an emergency services structure that was never built. If convicted, the Pennsylvania Constitution bars them from continuing to serve.
See Exeter Township leadership in limbo due to charges
On May 12, 2015, Karen Langley of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette Harrisburg Bureau reported on the passing of a bill in the Pennsylvania Senate that reforms pension benefit formulas for current state employees and schoolteachers. Those in support of the bill say that it will help the state budget and undo previous benefit enhancements. Opponents of the bill argue that public employee retirement benefits are recognized as deferred compensation for work that has already been performed, which are contractual rights protected by the Pennsylvania Constitution.
See State pension reform bill clears Senate committee on party-line vote
On May 6, 2015, State Representative Metcalfe announced the reintroduction of his Right to Bear Arms Protection Act (House Bill 357). The act would make all future federal gun control laws unenforceable within Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania’s right to bear arms provision is found in Article 1, Section 21 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
See House Bill 357
On April 22, 2015, Patrick Burns of the Ephrata Review reported the city of Akron, Pennsylvania is suing the city’s mayor to recover what they consider “overpayments.” The city’s solicitor asserts that increases in a mayor’s salary can only be awarded through an ordinance, and that the last mayoral salary ordinance was passed in 1961, which raised the annual salary to $150, making all other increases illegal. Mayor John McBeth argues that it is a violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution to cut a mayor’s salary once a four-year term has begun.
See Akron Sues Mayor To Recover Salary Hikes; Legal Battle McBeth Points to State Constitution; Council Worries About Mounting Legal Fees
On April 21, 2015, it was reported that the Senate Finance Committee approved legislation amending the Pennsylvania Constitution that would limit the growth of government spending. Senate Bill 70 would limit the state’s spending based on inflation and population growth.
See Senate Bill 70
On April 22, 2015, Fran Hilario of the Philadelphia Business Journal Reported that The Philadelphia Jobs Growth Coalition launched a campaign to reform the city’s tax code in hopes of stimulating job growth. Under the proposal, commercial and business property owners would pay more in real estate taxes while the wage tax rate would be reduced.
See Tax reform could create 100,00 new jobs in Philadelphia, group says
On April, 21, 2015, the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee voted in favor of legislation amending the Pennsylvania Constitution to reduce the size of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 203 to 153.
On April 12, 2015, Chris Porter of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette reported on this year’s election of three new state Supreme Court Justices. The article noted that, among other things, the candidate’s age is an issue that could play a role in the election. The Pennsylvania Constitution currently requires judges to retire at age 70. Party loyalists may shy away from voting for a candidate who is close to the mandatory retirement age in fear of losing a seat on the court so quickly. Sitting Supreme Court Justice Correale Stevens (68) is running for one of the seats in this year’s election and points to the legislatures attempts in raising the retirement age to 75 in justifying his decision to run.
See Judicial campaigns often lean on identity politics
On April 11, 2015, Joseph Mistick, Professor of Law at Duquesne University, wrote in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review about the expensive Supreme Court race campaigns. Mistick pointed out that the political makeup of the Court plays a critical role every 10 years. In these years the Legislative Reapportionment Commission redraws state legislative districts, and as Mistick describes, can secure or pass control of the House and Senate to one of the parties. The Pennsylvania Constitution requires two members from each party on the commission with the chairperson being filled by the Court, when Democrats and Republicans cannot agree.
See Balancing Justice
On April 7, 2015, Don Spatz of the Reading Eagle, reported on the possible implications that Reading will have if Senate Bill 4 is successful. At 32%, a number higher than both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Reading already has a high percentage of properties that are tax-exempt. The city worries that Senate Bill 4 will mean even more tax-exempt properties because “lobbyists will woo the legislators to help their clients.”
See Reading could lose if lawmakers decide who gets tax-exempt status, officials say
On April 5, 2015, Natasha Lindstrom of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, reported on Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s public hearings on the proposed change to the Pennsylvania Constitution that would give the legislature the final say over which nonprofits are tax-exempt. The Auditor General commented on how complex the issue is and how no one is really sure what is going to happen if the amendment passes. Those in favor of the amendment argue that the legislature should be able “to craft laws and not the (state) Supreme Court,” said DePasquale. On the other hand, those who appose the amendment argue that the current system is working relatively well and it is unknown how the new system would work.
See Nonprofit tax break proposal in Pennsylvania divisive
On March 31, 2015, Lizzy McLellan of The Legal Intelligencer reported that candidates running for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court are running with plans on having the Court hear more cases and issue more opinions. Commentators believe that this is easier said than done and that the newly elected justices might be surprised at some of the work that is actually done. Additionally, the article notes that the administration style of the court is often influenced by the Chief Justice, so a new composition of justices may not even effect it.
See Raising Pa. Supreme Court Output Easier Said Than Done?
On March 25, 2015, it was reported that Representative Dush introduced House Resolution 191 that would give subpoena power to all standing committees and subcommittees in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Currently, only the House Appropriations and Judiciary committees have the subpoena power.
See Dush Legislation Would Restore Subpoena Power to PA House Committees
On March 24, 2015, Lizzy McLellan of the Legal Intelligencer reported that Governor Wolf’s first few months in office have focused on the question of the office’s power and authority. The instances that have brought these questions to light include his termination some officials that were appointed by his predecessor, his attempted moratorium on the death penalty, his replacement of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission’s chairman after its approval of five new charter schools.
See Wolf’s Early Days Spotlight Powers, Authority of Office
On March 19, 2015, it was reported that Representative Caltagirone introduced House Bill 688 that would prohibit the commonwealth or a local government from taking someone’s primary residence from them if they cannot afford to pay the property taxes on it.
See Caltagirone introduces constitutional amendment to prohibit the government from taking homes for unpaid property taxes
On March 5, 2015, Robert Zullo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazzete, reported that Auditor General Eugene DePasquale “pledged to be a ‘relentless’ voice in Harrisburg for statewide municipal pension reform.” It was also reported that a House bill that includes provisions to help the pension problems faced by many cities would soon be introduced.
See Auditor General Eugene DePasquale renews push for statewide pension overhaul
On March 4, 2015, it was reported that Representative Dush and 15 other members of the House State Government Committee successfully advanced the Taxpayer Protection Act (House Bill 472) to the House floor consideration. The legislation would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to cap government spending to current levels, only allowing for an increase in spending if the population of the state increases or the rate of inflation rises.
See Dush Concerned Governor’s Proposed Budget Is Unsustainable Failure for PA Taxpayers and Job Creators
On February 25, 2015, James McGinnis of the Bucks County Courier Times reported that Governor Wolf has agreed to allow several of the 28 recalled judge nominations that he made days after taking office after speaking with Senate leadership. The nominations of Bucks County’s Court of Common Pleas Ray McHugh and Brian T. McGuffin were made because of two judges that will be retiring due to the mandatory retirement age requirement under the Pennsylvania Constitution.
See Wolf reverses course on recall of Bucks County judges
On February 24, 2015, Members of the state House of Representatives voted to approve and send to the state Senate for consideration House Bill 147, legislation authored by Rep. David Maloney (R-Berks) that would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to completely exclude principal places of residence from school property taxes.
On February 20, 2015, John Morganelli wrote a letter to the editor of the Herald-Standard (Uniontown, Pa). Morganelli says that Governor Wolf has no authority to grant a moratorium on the death penalty. Gov. Wolf granted a “reprieve” to a single inmate, which is one of the Governor’s powers under Article IV, Section 9(a) of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Gov. Wolf has stated that he will continue to grant individual “reprieves.” Morganelli predicts that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will ultimately find that the governor’s action are outside of the intended purpose and scope of a “reprieve.” Mr. Morganelli is the district attorney of Northampton County and in 1994 successfully prosecuted a case against the governor of Pennsylvania to enforce Pennsylvania’s death penalty in Morganelli v. Casey, which held that a “reprieve” exists only to afford an individual defendant the opportunity to temporarily postpone an execution for a particular proceeding involving that defendant.
See Wolf’s death penalty moratorium will fail
On February 17, 2015, Marc Levy of the Associated Press reported that Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled Senate voted 30-19 in favor of the resolution to the Pennsylvania Constitution that will let lawmakers, not courts, decide which organization qualify as charities and avoid paying certain taxes. Approval is next needed in the House before the proposal can be put on November’s statewide ballot.
See Fight looms as Senate advances charities amendment
On February 14, 2015, Dylan Segelbaum of the York Daily Record reported that state Reps. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, co-sponsors of the bill that allows people and organizations to sue local governments that have their own gun regulations, believe the measure is working. They believe that uniformity across the state is important so that people are not prosecuted for unknowingly violating a local gun law they did not know existed. Critics of the bill, including the mayors of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh argue that the General Assembly should not “facilitate” lawsuits against cities for having measures intended to stop the spread of illegal guns. 40 local governments have repealed or are in the process of repealing their gun regulations since the law went into effect on January 5.
See Saylor, Grove, ‘pleased’ at effect of law allowing people to sue local governments over gun laws
On February 9, 2015, Daniel Walmer of the Sentinel (Carlisle, Pa) reported that the North Middleton Township supervisors voted unanimously to draft an ordinance regarding firearm use in their municipal parks to conform to “federal, state and local laws.” The change is a reaction to the new state law that makes it easier for people and organizations to legally challenge gun restrictions. The National Rifle Association applauds the new law as a way for citizens to protect their rights, but some city leaders argue that it impedes their ability to prevent gun violence.
See Midstate municipalities rethink firearm prohibitions in parks
On February 7, 2015, Jim Boyle of the Pennsylvania Record reported that the bill to amend the state constitution and raise the mandatory retirement age for Pennsylvania judges from 70 to 75 years was approved by the House Judiciary Committee. It will now go in front of the full House for consideration. The House and Senate approved this same measure in 2013, but an amendment to the state constitution requires approval by the General Assembly in two consecutive legislative sessions and then a majority vote by the citizens of Pennsylvania before it can go into effect. The main sponsor of the Bill Rep. Kate Harper, R-Montgomery, says that it is in the best interest of the Commonwealth to give capable judges the option to continue their service.
See Bill to increase mandatory retirement age for judges advances to House
On February 5, 2015, Kate Giammarise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Harrisburg Bureau reported that two legal scholars testified before a state Senate committee that the proposed purely public charity amendment might not give the Legislature or authority it is seeking. Dean Emeritus and professor at Duquesne University School of Law, Nicholas Cafardi, stated that the proposed amendment would not change the way things are currently handled in Pennsylvania because he does not believe it would give the Legislature the authority to define a “purely public charity.” Similarly, Katherine Pearson, professor at Penn State Dickinson School of Law, testified that the proposed amendment “is not eliminating the court’s role in determining what is an institution of purely public charity.”
See Language of proposed constitutional amendment too vague, experts testify
On February 4, 2015, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale issued a news release in which he told the Senate Finance Committee that he believes that all constitutional amendments should only go before voters on a general election ballot so that it can reach as many voters as possible. The statement was issued as part of DePasquale’s testimony regarding the proposed amendment that would change the way purely public charities are designated. He urged the General Assembly to hold the proposed constitutional amendment, if approved by them, until the Nov. 3 general election to ensure that voters, “including unaffiliated independent voters who often skip primary elections, have their voices heard.”
On January 26, 2015, Brad Bumsted of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review reported that Senate Republicans and the fired director of the state’s Open Records office have sued Governor Wolf in Commonwealth Court. Former Governor Corbett swore in Erik Arneson on January 16, less than two weeks before Governor Wolf took over. The lawsuit says “the governor is forbidden from removing [Anreson] without cause.” Senate Democrats believe that Wolf acted within his authority, but will not join the litigation. The Court set a hearing for February 3.
See Senate GOP, fired open records director file lawsuit against Wolf
On January 29, 2015, Mark Guydish of the Time Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pa) reported on Governor Tom Wolf’s restoration of a moratorium on new drilling leases on Pennsylvania lands. This order reverses an effort by former Governor Tom Corbett to expand drilling beneath Pennsylvania’s sate parks and forests.
See Gov. Wolf restores fracking ban on public land
On January 31, 2015, Jake Betz of the News-Item (Shamoking, Pa) reported on the two judgeship vacancy that will be on the May 19 primary election ballot in Northumberland County. President Judge William H. Wiest turns 70 in July and, according to current state law, must retire at the end of the year even though his 10-year term does not expire until the end of 2017. There is current Bill that, if passed by the General Assembly and the voters of Pennsylvania, would ratify a change in the state Constitution to increase the mandatory retirement age of judges from 70 to 75 years. Though it is unlikely that the referendum will be placed on the ballot for the November election, it raises the hypothetical question that, if passed, what would happen if presiding judges wished to stay on the bench until the new mandatory retirement age of 75 after an election had already been held for their seat.
See Two Northumberland County judgeships on 2015 ballot
On January 26, 2015, Clayton Over of the Centre Daily Times reported that Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller filed a petition in Centre County Court to have Bellefonte police return property taken from her office pursuant to a search warrant. District Attorney Parks Miller is under investigation for allegations of forgery and filing false documents. Parks Miller argues that the search warrant lacked probable cause and violated the U.S. and Pennsylvania Constitutions.
See Centre County DA Stacy Parks Miller petitions to have seized items returned
On January 22, 2015, Janice Crompton of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on a Washington County, Peters Township, public hearing in which residents discussed “revamping” the township’s shale drilling ordinance. The council would like to make drilling a conditional use in light industrial areas, which would require a public hearing before each new well could be approved. Other portions of the ordinance deal with setbacks and pre- and post-drilling testing requirements. Township manager Michael Silvestri said, “The ordinance puts the burden on the applicant that they’re meeting environmental requirements of the Pennsylvania Constitution.” The council said they expect to have one or two more hearings before deciding.
See Washington County residents speak against gas drilling
On January 20, 2015, Natasha Lindstrom of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review reported on the possibility of Senate Bill 4, which aims to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to “clarify that lawmakers – and not the courts – have the authority to designate so-called ‘purely public charities,'” going to a vote in the Senate next week. Those in favor of the amendment see it as a way to help protect nonprofits from excessive litigation. Those opposed to the amendment argue that the amendment will take away from their ability to challenge the status of exempt organizations. Both the Senate and House must approve the bill once more in the 2015-16 legislative session before being sent to the voters of Pennsylvania.
See Nonprofit tax break proposal may get Pa. Senate committee vote this week
On January 13, 2015, Chris Mondics of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote an article on the recently retired Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice, Ronald Castille. The article describes his time served in the military and his subsequent 43-year stint in the field of law. Though criticized at times, lawyers and academics alike praise the Chief Justice for his legal writing and analysis. Finally, after decades of service, the Chief Justice has an open agenda.
See Ron Castille: From Vietnam valor and injury to historic tenure as Pa. chief justice