Carol M. Bast, Privacy, Eavesdropping, and Wiretapping Across the United States: Reasonable Expectation of Privacy and Judicial Discretion, Catholic University Journal of Law & Technology (Fall 2020), Carol M. Bast writes that although the Pennsylvania Constitution does not contain an explicit privacy provision, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has interpreted the state constitution as outlawing secret taping of a suspect by an informant in the suspect’s home. She writes that Pennsylvania is an all-party consent state, meaning that protection against eavesdropping and wiretapping requires all-party consent for face-to-face and telephone conversations.
James Haplin, Judge Rejects Effort to Overturn Wolf Dining Ban, The Times-Tribune (Dec. 30, 2020), James Haplin writes that a Commonwealth Court judge rejected an effort by over 20 restaurants to overturn Governor Tom Wolf’s ban on indoor dining that was implemented in response to rising COVID-19 cases. The lawsuit alleges that Wolf’s order violates the equal protection clause of both the United States and Pennsylvania constitutions by treating bars and restaurants differently than other businesses that attract large groups of people.
28 Republicans in Congress File Brief in Support of Kelly’s Lawsuit Over Pennsylvania’s Mail-in Voting, Erie News Now (Dec. 24, 2020), The Erie News Now Article: 28 Republican members of the United States House of Representatives filed an amicus brief in the United States Supreme Court supporting Representative Mike Kelly’s case challenging the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s no-excuse mail-in ballot voting. Representative Kelly and the other plaintiffs allege that the Pennsylvania Legislature and Governor Tom Wolf violated the Pennsylvania Constitution when they approved no-excuse mail-in voting.
Legislation Creating Two-Year Window for Child Sexual Abuse Victims Will Take Priority in New Legislative Session, State News Service (Dec. 15, 2020). The State News Article: Senator Lisa Baker is introducing legislation to allow for the creation of a two-year window to the civil statute of limitations. The bill seeks to amend Article I, Section 11 of the Pennsylvania Constitution by permitting victims to submit a claim in civil court even if the statute of limitations has already expired. Because the proposed bill would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution, it must be approved in two consecutive legislative sessions and by voters in order to become law. This legislation was introduced prior to the failure of advertisement of the bill.
Metcalfe Issues Updated Impeachment Resolution to Terminate Wolf’s Tyranny, State News Service (Dec. 15, 2020). The State News Article: Representative Daryl Coote is reissuing his memorandum asking colleagues in the state House to co-sponsor a resolution calling for the impeachment of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf. In his memorandum, Representative Coote writes that “Governor Wolf must be held accountable for his actions that have harmed so many of our citizens and violated so many of our rights. No individual or office is above the law.”
Paula Reed Ward, Lawsuits Contend Gov. Wolf Has No Authority to Issue New Restrictions, TribLive (Dec. 15, 2020). Paula Reed Ward writes that the Butler Area School District and two indoor water parks filed two lawsuits against Governor Wolf challenging his authority to close entertainment venues, limit indoor capacity to 10 people, and prohibit extracurricular activities. The school asked the Commonwealth Court to reverse Wolf’s orders and grant a permanent injunction; the water parks asked the court to declare the order unconstitutional and issue an injunction.
Ryan Byrne, Pennsylvania Voters Could Decide as Many as Eight Constitutional Amendments in 2021 or 2022, Ballotpedia News (Dec. 11, 2020). Ryan Byrne writes that Pennsylvanians could vote on more than eight ballot measures seeking to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution in the upcoming years. The measures include topics such as electoral and voting policies and Governor Wolf’s emergency powers. The state legislature must approve each amendment during two legislative sessions before it can appear on the statewide ballot.
Max Mitchell, A ‘Sword of Damocles’: US Judge Blocks Pa. Attorney Anti-Bias Rules as Unconstitutional Curb on Speech, Legal Intelligencer (Dec. 8, 2020). Max Mitchell writes that U.S. District Judge Chad Kenney of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted a preliminary injunction prohibiting the use of a new disciplinary rule for attorneys stating they would be subject to discipline if they “knowingly manifest bias or prejudice, or engage in harassment or discrimination”. Judge Kenney stated that the rule was an unconstitutional restriction on free speech that constituted viewpoint discrimination because attorneys would need to self-censor their speech.
Matthew Santoni, GOP Electors Claim ‘Irregularities’ Should Bar Pa. Votes, Law360 (Dec. 7, 2020). Matthew Santoni writes that a group led by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler County, filed a complaint with the Commonwealth Court seeking to force Governor Wolf to withdraw his certification of the presidential election results in favor of President-elect Joe Biden. The group claims that the Governor and the Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar failed to verify that approximately 200,000 mail-in ballots were legal before certifying the election results in Pennsylvania.
Kara Seymour, Gov. Wolf Signs New Law, Vetoes 2 Bills, Patch (Dec. 2, 2020). Kara Seymour writes that Governor Tom Wolf vetoed House Bill 21 which would have created a new license for home inspectors regulated by the State Board of Certified Real Estate Appraisers, separate from the existing regulatory framework provided by Act 114 of 2000. In 2000, the Pennsylvania Home Inspection Law, Act 114 of 2000, was enacted for the purpose of providing a regulatory framework for home inspectors in Pennsylvania. Governor Wolf stated that, rather than “creating a new license class imposing new barriers,” lawmakers should evaluate existing law to improve upon that framework instead.
Nicholas Malfitano, Governor Wolf Vetoes Bill That Would Have Given Businesses Some Protection from COVID-19 Lawsuits, Pennsylvania Record (Dec. 2, 2020). Nicholas Malfitano writes that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf vetoed House Bill 1737 which would have extended immunity protections from liability connected to COVID-19 to an array of healthcare entities and other businesses. According to Governor Wolf, the legislation “provides broad, overreaching immunity from civil liability during the current pandemic.” Governor Wolf further stated that the immunity protections should not be extended to those businesses that are not in compliance with government health orders.
Kara Seymour, Gov. Wolf Vetoes 3 Bills Related to Firearms, Energy Production, Patch (Nov. 27, 2020). Kara Seymour writes that Governor Tom Wolf vetoed House Bills 1747 and 2440. House Bill 1747 sought to limit emergency powers related to firearms during emergencies. In his veto message, Governor Wolf said that, “the ongoing pandemic underscores the need for flexibility in the law to deal with unforeseen and unfathomable situations.” Furthermore, Governor Wolf stated that possessing the appropriate tools to protect Pennsylvanians from the various threats posed by disaster emergencies is critical. House Bill 2440 sought to designate shooting ranges and businesses relating to the sale and production of firearms and ammunition as “life-sustaining.” In his veto message, Governor Wolf stated that the bill represented “another meaningless attempt to alter the necessary tools for fighting the pandemic.”
Elaine Labalme, Governor Wolf Vetoes Bill That Favored Oil Interests Over Public Health and Safety, Environmental Defense Fund (Nov. 25, 2020). Elain Labalme writes that Governor Tom Wolf vetoed house Bill 790 which attempted to address the problems associated with the conventional oil and gas industry. Governor Wolf argued that the bill does not adequately protect the environment and the public health and safety of the citizens of Pennsylvania and would contribute to a legacy of environmental degradation.
Ann Belser, While Defending Councilor Ricky Burgess, Pgh City Law Department Argues Its Own City Charter Is Unconstitutional, Pittsburgh Current (Nov. 19, 2020). Ann Belser writes that the city of Pittsburgh’s law department challenged its own Home Ruler Charter, alleging that it provides no avenue to remove Councilmember Ricky Burgess for additionally serving as a faculty member of the Community College of Allegheny County in violation of the charter. Professor Bruce Ledewitz of Duquesne University School of Law states that the city should be defending its own charter, but that the city law department is still entitled to a decision on the matter.
Nicholas Malfitano, Black Lives Matter Masks Update: Allegheny County Port Authority Seeks to Dismiss Worker’s Suit, Pennsylvania Record (Nov. 10, 2020). Nicholas Malfitano writes that the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT) will move to dismiss the lawsuit brought by transit union members who say they were disciplined for wearing facemasks relating to the Black Lives Matter movement. The PAT alleges that its policy regarding facemasks containing statements related to political or social causes was modified before the suit was filed. According to the PAT, the updated policy stated that masks or other face coverings of a political or social protest nature were not permitted to be worn.
Reis Thebault, Robert Barnes, and Hannah Knowles, No Need for Additional High Court Action, PA Attorney General Says, The Washington Post (Nov. 8, 2020). The authors write that Justice Alito approved a request from the Pennsylvania GOP and ordered county boards to comply with state guidance and segregate mail ballots delivered after Election Day. Although late ballots will be separated, officials state that excluding the votes from the official count will not affect the results because so few ballots have arrived after Election Day.
Kara Seymour, Wolf Vetoes COVID-19 Death Reporting Bill, Patch (Nov. 6, 2020). Kara Seymour writes that Governor Wolf vetoed House Bill 1164, which would require county coroners to be notified of any suspected deaths in their jurisdiction that may be related to COVID-19. Due to the increase in COVID-19 deaths across Pennsylvania, Governor Wolf argued that the bill would have delayed reporting and access to public health information, and ultimately jeopardize public safety.
Suzette Parmley, Despite Medical Marijuana Card, Pa. Trooper Had Probable Cause to Search Vehicle Smelling of Weed, Judge Rules, Legal Intelligencer (Nov. 4, 2020). Suzette Parmley writes that a Huntingdon County Court of Common Pleas judge held that a state trooper had probable cause to conduct a warrantless search of a man’s vehicle based in part on the odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle. President Judge Zanic upheld the denial of the defendant’s omnibus pretrial motion.
Mark Sherman, GOP Maneuvers to Challenge Battleground Absentee Ballots, Associated Press (Nov. 3, 2020). Mark Sherman writes that Republicans plan to keep their legal options open to challenge absentee ballots in Pennsylvania if it is possible the battleground state could swing President Donald Trump’s re-election. In fact, some suits have already been filed, with Republicans claiming that officials in Montgomery County improperly allowed voters a chance to fix problems with their mail-in ballots before Election Day. Further, President Trump stated he was going to court in Pennsylvania in order to prevent the counting of mailed ballots that are received three days after the election.
Senate Republican Leaders Call for PA Secretary of State to Resign Immediately, State News Service (Nov. 3, 2020). The State News Service article writes that Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and Majority Leader Jake Corman have called for Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar’s immediate resignation due to what they allege were her numerous actions to undermine public confidence in Pennsylvania elections. The Senators claim that Boockvar’s constantly changing guidance she has delivered to counties directly contradicts the Election Code language she is sworn to uphold and conflicts her own litigation statements and decisions of both the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court.
Trump Promises Court Fight Over Pennsylvania Absentee Votes, Independent Online (UK) (Nov. 2, 2020). The Independent Online article discusses how President Donald Trump plans to pursue legal action in Pennsylvania in an attempt to prevent mailed ballots from being counted if they are received three days after Election Day. The issue President Trump presents is whether the extension ordered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which relies on voter protections in the Pennsylvania constitution, violates the United States Constitution.
Hayden Ludwig and Kevin Mooney, The “Greening” of Pennsylvania: Energy Powerhouse of the East, State News Service (Oct. 27, 2020). Hayden Ludwig and Kevin Mooney write that the benefits Pennsylvania derives from its participation in the oil, coal, and gas industry could all be gone in an instant if there was a statewide ban on fracking, which would cost Pennsylvania hundreds of thousands of jobs and spike household electricity prices. The authors recount that Governor Tom Wolf issued an executive order instructing the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to begin formulating regulations for joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) despite the fact that the Pennsylvania constitution delegates the power to enter into interstate agreements to the Pennsylvania General Assembly, not the Governor.
Keith Gushard, Area Man’s Petition Claims Governor Didn’t Perform Duty, Meadville Tribune (Oct. 23, 2020). Keith Gushard writes that Luigi DeFrancesco, a Pennsylvania resident, filed a case against Governor Tom Wolf claiming that the Governor does not have the power to shut down businesses under a proclamation of disaster emergency. DeFrancesco claims that Governor Wolf did not perform his official duty as required by Pennsylvania’s constitution by proclaiming a disaster emergency rather than following Pennsylvania’s Disease Prevention and Control Law of 1955.
Neil Strebig, Gov. Wolf Vetoes PA. Restaurant Bill, Advocate Groups Ask General Assembly to Override Veto, York Daily Record (Oct. 19, 2020). Neil Strebig writes that Governor Tom Wolf vetoed House Bill 2513 which would help eliminate self-certification for restaurants and lessen indoor service restrictions. Currently, restaurants must apply for state certification in order to operate at 50 percent indoor capacity. Despite being met with criticism by some restaurant owners, Governor Wolf argued that this bill jeopardized public health and safety and could lead to an increase in COVID-19 outbreaks.
Sam Wood, Drug Court vs. Medical Pot Some Must Choose Between Intervention and PA-Sanctioned Marijuana, The Philadelphia Inquirer (Oct. 19, 2020). Sam Wood writes that, since the limited legalization of medical marijuana two years ago, advocates of Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program have fielded a steady stream of complaints. The complaints are regarding people arrested on narcotics charges being unable to take part in the program unless they turn in their medical marijuana cards. The advocates claim judges in several counties are requiring participants to abstain from medical marijuana or face time in prison.
P.J. D’Annunzio, Allen to Be Removed as Phila. Court Administrative Judge, Sources Say, Legal Intelligencer (Oct. 16, 2020). P.J. D’Annunzio writes that Philadelphia administrative judge Jacqueline Allen will be removed due to her allegedly contentious relationship with the court’s president judge, Idee Fox. No decisions have been made as Judge Allen’s replacement.
Pennsylvania Judge Orders Pottstown to Hand Over Records in Pottstown Residents’ Lawsuit Over Unconstitutional Home Inspections, State News Service (Oct. 15, 2020). Judge Haaz of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County denied the borough of Pottstown’s motion for a protective order in a lawsuit over rental inspection law that forces landlords and tenants to open their properties and homes to intrusive inspections. Pottstown filed the protective order asking for the quantity of documents it had to produce to be severely limited and for the right to withhold all electronically stored information.
Matthew Santoni, Pa. Justices to Weigh if Signatures Alone Can DQ Votes, Law360 (Oct. 14, 2020). Matthew Santoni writes that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed to consider, before the November 3rd presidential election, whether county election officials can dispose of mail-in ballots based on comparing voters’ signatures on the outer envelope to the signatures on their voter registration forms. Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar asked the Court to fast-track this issue after the Trump campaign challenged her guidance to counties that signatures alone should not disqualify ballots.
Julie Shaw, Philly’s FOP Sues the City Over Requirement for Public Hearing on Police Contract, The Philadelphia Inquirer (Oct. 14, 2020). Julie Shaw writes that the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 has filed a lawsuit against the city of Philadelphia contending that a new ordinance requiring a public hearing on proposed police department contracts violates the officers’ collective bargaining rights and state law. The suit seeks to prevent the requirement that public hearings must be held in City Council regarding initial proposals for police labor contracts.
Matt Fair, Pa. Judge Suspended Following Charges Of Campaign Theft, Law360 (Oct. 13, 2020). Matt Fair writes that Judge Michael Cabry III was removed from the magisterial district court bench for charges of campaign theft over an alleged withdrawal of money from his campaign account at casinos in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. The preliminary hearing for the case will proceed in the Court of Judicial Discipline.
Robert L. Byer and Charles Becker, By Pushing to Impeach a State Supreme Court Justice for His Opinions, Pennsylvania Lawmakers Undermine Democracy, The Philadelphia Inquirer (Oct. 13, 2020). Robert L. Byer and Charles Becker write that a group of Pennsylvania legislators are attempting to impeach Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice David Wecht. Within Pennsylvania’s constitutional system, judges may be impeached and removed for “misbehavior in office.” The Pennsylvania House of Representatives can issue articles of impeachment, which results in a trial in the Pennsylvania Senate. An impeached official can be removed from office if at least two-thirds of the senators agree on the result. The federal and Pennsylvania Constitutions use the same basic process for impeachment.
Marshall Cohen, Philadelphia Judge Rejects Trump’s Poll-Watcher Lawsuit, CNN Politics (Oct. 9, 2020). Marshall Cohen writes that a local Philadelphia judge rejected an effort by the Trump campaign to send poll-watchers to voting sites in the city, finding that the campaign’s attempted poll-watching is not permitted under state law. Judge Glazer held that the Election Code does not contain a provision that expressly grants the Trump Campaign and its representatives a right to serve as watchers at “satellite offices” of the Board of Elections.
Nicholas Malfitano, Transit Union Members Sue for Not Being Allowed to Wear Black Lives Matter Face Masks, The Pennsylvania Record (Oct. 8, 2020). Nicholas Malfitano writes that transit union members are claiming that their constitutional rights to free speech were violated after being disciplined for wearing Black Lives Matter masks. On July 23, 2020, the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT) changed its Uniform Standards for Port Authority Operators, which now disallowed any clothing, including masks or other face coverings, of a “political or social protest nature” to be worn. Prior to this change, PAT employees had been allowed to wear masks with the statement “Black Lives Matter” without any adverse incident.
Chris Palmer, Philadelphia Sues Pennsylvania Over Inability to Enact City-Specific Guns Laws, The Philadelphia Inquirer (Oct. 7, 2020). Chris Palmer writes that Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and other city leaders have announced a lawsuit against Pennsylvania seeking the right to enact their own gun-control ordinances. During a news conference, Kenney said preemption “handcuffs” local governments from taking measures that could protect the wellbeing of its residents.
Notice of Veto; House Bill 2787, Printer’s No. 4334, 2020 WLNR 28161912 (Oct. 3, 2020). Governor Wolf returned House Bill 2787, Printer’s Number 4334, without his approval. The Bill would allow sports and extracurricular activities to occur during the COVID-19 pandemic. Governor Wolf writes that we must continue to prioritize the health and welfare. Additionally, Governor Wolf writes that this Bill has constitutional infirmities because it attempts to take away executive authority.
Court Issues Go Beyond SCOTUS Seat and Includes PA’s Judiciary, The Philadelphia Inquirer (Oct. 2, 2020). This editorial by the Philadelphia Inquirer states that the politicization of the judiciary goes well beyond President Trump’s filling more judicial seats than anyone, and extends to the entire federal court system, and further into Pennsylvania state courts. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court shapes the laws that govern our everyday life and the stakes are raised when the neutrality of the judiciary is questioned. Politics further intersect the judiciary because the judges in Pennsylvania state courts are elected.
Maria Michalos. PA Governor Wolf Vetoes Legislation to Block Climate Action (Sept. 24, 2020). Maria Michalos writes that Governor Wolf returned House Bill 2025, Printer’s Number 3907, without his approval. The Governor determined that the proposed legislation is extremely harmful to public health and welfare because it prevents the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection from taking measures to abate, control or limit carbon dioxide emissions without prior approval from the General Assembly.
Peter Hall & Ford Turner, Federal Judge Denies Gov. Wolf’s Request To Stay Order Invalidating Pennsylvania Coronavirus Mitigation Measures, Morning Call (Sept. 22, 2020). Peter Hall and Ford Turner write that U.S. District Judge William S. Stickman IV declared several of Governor Wolf’s coronavirus restrictions, which included shutdown orders requiring businesses to close and limiting public gatherings, unconstitutional. Judge Stickman then declined Governor Wolf’s request to stay the ruling. According to Professor Bruce Ledewitz of Duquesne University School of Law, the Wolf administration’s arguments that the state would be harmed without a stay because more people could possibly die of COVID-19 should have been sufficient for a stay.
Matthew Santoni, Pa. GOP To Ask Supreme Court To Block Late Voting Deadline, Law360 (Sept. 22, 2020). Matthew Santoni writes that Pennsylvania Republicans will ask the United States Supreme Court to review a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision extending the mail-in ballot deadline up to three days after Election Day. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court allowed the ruling because the tight turnaround time in the state’s new mail-in voting statute threatened to disenfranchise voters given the possible delays in the U.S. Postal Service and the surge in COVID-related demand for mail-in ballots. The party argues that the ruling illegally extends voting past Election Day and requests a stay of the decision.
Matthew Santoni, Trump Revives Drop-Box Challenge After Pa. Justices’ Ruling, Law360 (Sept. 21, 2020). Matthew Santoni writes that the Trump campaign sought to revive its federal lawsuit to prevent Pennsylvania’s use of ballot drop boxes during the upcoming election. The campaign argues that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling allowing counties to collect mail-in ballots with drop boxes didn’t address the campaign’s claims that drop boxes were vulnerable to fraud.
P.J. D’Annunzio, 3rd Circ.: Mentally Disabled Pa. Man Imprisoned for a Decade Without Trial Can’t Sue Court System, Legal Intelligencer (Sept. 10, 2020). P.J. D’Annunzio writes that Craig Geness, a man incarcerated for ten years without a trial on dismissed homicide charges, cannot sue the Pennsylvania court system because the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts is shielded by governmental immunity. The split three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals wrote that it was limited to examining the narrow issue of immunity even though it believed the situation exhibited “inexcusable failures in Pennsylvania’s criminal justice and mental health systems.”
Matt Fair, Pa. Justices Reject Diploma Privilege Petition, Law360 (Sept. 10, 2020). Matt Fair writes that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied a petition seeking diploma privileges for law school graduates due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The petition would have allowed graduates to practice on an emergency basis without passing the now-online bar exam, which the petitioners argued is fraught with cybersecurity risks and extra costs to graduates. The Court declined to hear arguments on the matter.
Matthew Santoni, Trump’s Bid to Set Aside Drop Box Votes Blocked in Pa., Law360 (September 9, 2020).Matthew Santoni writes that U.S. District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan denied President Donald Trump’s injunction request, which would have set aside ballots cast via drop boxes in Pennsylvania. The court held that the issue was premature because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court could decide the legality of drop boxes prior to the start of voting.
Matt Fair, Pa. Justices Defend Chief Jurist Against Bias Allegations, Law360 (September 9, 2020). Matt Fair writes that former Penn State University general counsel Cynthia Baldwin has accused Chief Justice Saylor of supporting disciplinary charges against her after he claimed she caused trouble on the bench by having a “minority agenda.” Justice Saylor has denied the allegations. It has been confirmed that he is being investigated by the state’s Judicial Conduct Board.
House Vote to Overturn Governor’s Veto Fails, Metzgar Says, States News Service (Sept. 9, 2020). The House of Representatives failed to overturn the governor’s veto of House Resolution 836. The Resolution would have terminated the COVID-19 disaster emergency declared on March 6th and would have required the secretary of State to notify the governor of the adoption of the resolution coupled with a directive to terminate the declaration.
Hogan Lovells, New Lawsuit Seeks to Ensure Pennsylvania Voters Can Obtain Ballots in Face of High Volume, Mail Delay, Plus Company Updates (Sept. 5, 2020). Hogan Lovells writes that a complaint was filed in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania on behalf of a Pennsylvania voter who was allegedly deprived of her right to vote in June when she was forced to choose between the health of herself (and her elderly mother), and her right to vote. The lawsuit seeks to protect the fundamental right to vote guaranteed by the Pennsylvania Constitution through a failsafe option which will require the Commonwealth to electronically deliver replacement absentee and mail ballots to voters who timely requested them but did not receive them in time, grant authorized voters the option to use a downloadable write-in ballot if their requested ballots did not arrive in time, and permit a voter to designate someone to pick up their previously request but undelivered ballot in the week prior to the election.
Carl Hessler Jr., Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale Settles Lawsuit Over Social Media Censorship, The Daily American (Sept. 1, 2020). Carl Hessler, Jr. writes that under a court settlement, Commissioner Joseph C. Gale must restore eight constituents’ access to his social media sites and stop blocking their comments. Further, Gale has been instructed not to delete or edit comments posted within the social media accounts.
Nicholas Malfitano, Class Action Alleges Philadelphia’s Licenses and Inspections Department Earns Revenue Through Excessive Fines, The Pennsylvania Record (Sept. 1, 2020). Nicholas Malfitano writes that a class action lawsuit is being brought by a real estate firm against the City of Philadelphia and its Department of Licenses and Inspections. The real estate firm alleges the defendants have attempted to generate additional revenue for the City through excessive fines issued on a daily basis in violation of the U.S. Constitution and Pennsylvania Constitution.
Matthew Santoni, Judge Suspended For ‘Aunt Jemima’ Remark About Juror, Law360 (Aug. 27, 2020). Matthew Santoni writes that the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline suspended Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Mark Tranquilli without pay pending a disciplinary trial regarding racist and inappropriate remarks he made about a Black juror. The case will be conducted on an expedited basis.
Matt Fair, Pa. Chief Justice Faces Probe After Ex-PSU GC’s Bias Claims, Law360 (Aug. 26, 2020). Matt Fair writes that Chief Justice Thomas Saylor is facing a disciplinary investigation from the Judicial Conduct Board following reports that he helped a judge to build a disciplinary case against Cynthia Baldwin, general counsel for Penn State during the Jerry Sandusky case. Baldwin shared an affidavit where a grand jury judge stated that Chief Justice Saylor pressured him into building a case against Baldwin due to her work on the Sandusky case and because of her “minority agenda” during her time on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Torsten Ove, Ex-Luzerne County Judge at Center of ‘Kids For Cash’ Jail Scandal Loses Big For Lighter Prison Sentence, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Aug. 26, 2020). Torsten Ove writes that a federal court upheld the 28-year prison sentence for former president judge of Luzerne County, Mark A. Ciavarella, Jr. Ciavarella orchestrated the “kids for cash” scandal wherein he accepted millions of dollars in bribes to remand around 4,000 juveniles to for-profit juvenile detention centers from 2003 to 2008 for a wide range of relatively minor infractions.
Cynthia Fernandez, Thwarted At Every Turn, Pa. GOP Lawmakers Hatch New Plan to Curtail Wolf’s Emergency Powers, Spotlight PA (Aug. 25, 2020). Cynthia Fernandez writes that Reps. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler) and Russ Diamond (R., Lebanon), and Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Adams) are collecting signatures to suspend Pennsylvania’s Emergency Management Services Code, granting the governor powers during a disaster declaration. The legislators claim that they can suspend any law if they gather enough signatures from the majority of lawmakers under Article 1, Section 12 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. However, Professor Bruce Ledewitz of Duquesne University School of Law pointed out that recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court precedent found that the legislature cannot act unilaterally in this situation.
Dani Fitzgerald, DA Seeks Removal of Harmony Twp. Commissioner, Beaver County Times (Aug. 23, 2020). Dani Fitzgerald writes that Beaver County District Attorney David Lozier is seeking to have Harmony Township Commissioner President Bradley Payne removed from office after his third-degree felony conviction from over twenty years ago came to light. Under the Pennsylvania Constitution, one can only hold elective office if they have not been convicted of a serious crime.
Trump Campaign Lawsuit Over Ballot Drop Boxes in Pennsylvania Placed On Hold, TribLive (Aug. 23, 2020). The Trump campaign’s lawsuit to prohibit Pennsylvania counties from using drop boxes to collect mail-in ballots during the presidential election was put on hold by U.S. District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan, who held that state courts should have a chance to decide the matter first. There are several related cases being tried in state court.
Dave Simpson, Post-Gazette Sues City Agency Over Race Bias Inquiry, Law360 (Aug. 18, 2020). Dave Simpson writes that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sued the Commission on Human Relations over its discrimination inquiry into whether the Post-Gazette violated a reporter’s civil rights by barring her from covering police brutality protests. The Post-Gazette barred Alexis D. Jones from reporting on these protests following her tweet comparing the alleged looting to the aftermath of a Kenny Chesney concert. The Post-Gazette argues that the Commission’s discrimination inquiry and complaint into Ms. Jones’ situation violates its first amendment rights to freedom of the press. Ms. Jones’ discrimination suit against the Post-Gazette is pending.
Max Mitchell, Judicial Conduct Board Files Charges Against Pittsburgh Judge Over Allegations of Racist Comments, Legal Intelligencer (Aug. 12, 2020). Max Mitchell reports that the Judicial Conduct Board filed charges against Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Mark Tranquilli for racist comments he made referring to a Black female juror. The JCB’s complaint raises six counts of judicial misconduct, four violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct, and two violations of constitutional provisions barring judges from violating the disciplinary code.
Julia Shanahan, Public Record Or Trade Secret? Battle Over Number of Liquor Licenses Could Go To PA High Court, 90.5 WESA (Aug. 11, 2020). Julia Shanahan writes that the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is appealing two decisions ordering it to turn over information about how many liquor licenses are eligible to be auctioned off in each county. The Board is asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to intervene to protect information that it believes is a trade secret.
Matt Fair, Pa. High Court Won’t Waive Bar Exam Requirement Over Virus, Law360 (Aug. 7, 2020). Max Fair writes that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will not allow law school graduates to practice without taking the bar exam, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. While other states (including Louisiana, Oregon, Utah, and Washington) have granted diploma privilege, Pennsylvania is forging ahead with its plans to hold the bar exam in October.
Max Mitchell, Pa. Lawyer Sues State Disciplinary Board to Halt Enforcement of New Anti-Bias Rules, Legal Intelligencer (Aug. 6, 2020). Max Mitchell reports that a Pennsylvania lawyer has sued members of the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board over Rule 8.4, adopted earlier this year, which says that attorneys can face discipline if they “knowingly manifest bias or prejudice, or engage in harassment or discrimination, as those terms are defined in applicable federal, state or local statutes or ordinances.” The attorney claimed that this rule chilled his speech.
Nicholas Malfitano, FOX News Anchor Loses Lawsuit Over Alleged Improper Use of Her Image Across the Internet, Pennsylvania Record (Aug 5, 2020). Nicholas Malfitano writes that “Good Day Philadelphia” anchor Karen Hepp’s lawsuit against various websites and media outlets (including Facebook, Imgur, and Reddit) was dismissed. Hepp sued these websites for featuring an image taken without her knowledge. However, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed the case for lack of personal jurisdiction, among other objections.
Elise Hansen, Pa. Top Court Ditches Challenge To COVID-19 Eviction Order, Law360 (July 31, 2020). Elise Hansen reports that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declined to hear a landlords’ challenge to the governor’s COVID-19 eviction restrictions. The Court dismissed the challenge as “improvidently granted,” without further comment. Justice Wecht wrote a dissent, arguing that the Court was “abruptly wash[ing] its hands” of the dispute despite ongoing controversy over the governor’s decision.
Cara Salvatore, Pa. Justices Rein In Trial Courts’ Power to Grant Mistrials, Law360 (July 21, 2020). Cara Salvatore writes that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a trial court could not declare a mistrial of its own accord. That power exists only where there’s a manifest injustice “of a constitutional or structural nature.” The Court remanded the case, stating that a trial court may exercise its sua sponte authority to declare mistrials only in truly exceptional circumstances.
Emily Previti, Federal Judge Agrees To Expedite Trump Campaign’s Lawsuit Over Vote-By-Mail In PA, 90.5 WESA (July 20, 2020). Emily Previti reports that a federal judge agreed to fast-track President Trump’s lawsuit against Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar and 67 county election boards over vote-by-mail procedures during the June 2 Primary. The U.S. District Judge, J. Nicholas Ranjan, stated in his order that he is attempting to balance the need to expedite the case because of the upcoming election with the counties’ “competing obligations to administer the upcoming general election.”
John Finnerty, State Senate Oks Possible Constitution Changes, Daily Item (July 16, 2020). John Finnerty writes that the Senate has passed, and the House has already approved, a bill dividing the Supreme Court, the Superior Court, and the Commonwealth Court into judicial districts. The bill aims to ensure a broader range of regional interests are represented. Because the bill is amending the Pennsylvania Constitution, it must pass each chamber twice in consecutive legislative sessions before being presented to voters in a ballot referendum.
Matthew Santoni, Pa. Seeks To Block Trump’s Bid To Fast-Track Ballot Box Suit, Law360 (July 13, 2020). Matthew Santoni writes that Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar argued in a Pennsylvania federal court that the Trump campaign’s request for a speedy hearing and expedited discovery should be denied as premature, as the defendants haven’t had a chance to challenge the claims. The Trump campaign alleges that the state invited fraud by allowing absentee ballots to be left at drop boxes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Boockvar asked for the court to deny the campaign’s motion and institute a shortened schedule for motions to dismiss the suit.
Leach Proposes Constitutional Ban on Fracking, State News Service (July 2, 2020). State Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery/Delaware) proposed a constitutional amendment banning hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania. The announcement came after Attorney General Shapiro released a special grand jury report detailing the harms inflicted by the fracking industry on the residents of Pennsylvania.
Carl Hessler Jr., Constituents Sue Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale Over Blocked Social Media Posts, Daily American (July 1, 2020). A coalition of three law firms filed a complaint against Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale for censoring his constituents’ comments on his official social media platforms. The suit seeks a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against Gale.
White Introduces Constitutional Amendment to Allow Voter Recalls, State News Service (July 1, 2020). Representative Martina White (R-Philadelphia) introduced an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution to allow for the recall of elected officials who oversee local or state executive branches, agencies or departments. Pennsylvania currently has no recall provisions.
Howard A. Myrick, Philadelphia Is No Stranger to Riots, Chestnut Hill Local (June 18, 2020). Howard A. Myrick writes that Philadelphia has a long history of riots. One such riot occurred in 1838, when Black citizens’ right to vote was removed from the Pennsylvania Constitution. The author argues that the current riots in Philadelphia are unsurprising given the area’s history and its unique racial and ethnic diversity.
Paul J. Gough, Exclusive: Attorney General On Why His Office is Criminally Prosecuting Some Natural Gas Companies, Pittsburgh Business Times (June 17, 2020). Paul J. Gough writes that Attorney General Shapiro filed two criminal actions against natural gas companies. The attorney general stated that his goal was to enforce Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and uphold citizens’ rights to clean air and pure water.
Paula Reed Ward, Court Panel Hears Marsy’s Law Argument, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (June 11, 2020). Paula Reed Ward writes that the League of Women Voters, with support from the American Civil Liberties Union, continues to pursue a lawsuit in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court arguing that the ballot question regarding Marsy’s Law was unconstitutional. Attorneys for the League of Women Voters argued in court that the question was too vague and did not properly inform voters of the actual issues encompassed by the amendment.
Senate Approves Senator Ward’s Constitutional Amendment Requiring a Legislative Vote on Extended Disaster Declarations, State News Service (June 10, 2020). The Pennsylvania Senate approved a proposed constitutional amendment by Senator Kim Ward (R-39) that limits future emergency disaster declarations to 30 days unless an extension is approved by the General Assembly. Under current statutory law, an emergency declaration by the governor can last up to 90 days and be renewed by him indefinitely.
Jan Murphy, Pa. Lawmakers Question Gov. Wolf’s Authority to Extend Mailed Ballot Deadline In 6 Counties, Patriot-News (June 2, 2020). Jan Murphy writes that Republican lawmakers voiced opposition to Governor Wolf extending the deadline for receiving mail-in ballots for the primaries in six counties due to COVID-19. House and Senate Republican leaders are assessing next steps with their legal counsel. [Editor’s Note: The extension proceeded unaffected.]
Ron Evans, PA Government Is Ignoring the Commonwealth’s Supreme Court, Daily Review (May 29, 2020). In an op-ed, Ron Evans, President of the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation, writes that Governor Wolf and the Pennsylvania legislature continue to ignore relevant case law enforcing the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Despite a recent Supreme Court ruling in Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation v. Commonwealth, 214 A.3d 748 (Pa. 2019), the governor continues to divert $61 million from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund to the General Fund for the 2020-21 budget.
Kim Strong, Like No Other in Pa., Lebanon Co. in Revolt, Other Counties Threatened to Reject Gov. Wolf’s Orders, But Only Lebanon Actually Did It, Lebanon Daily News (May 29, 2020). Kim Strong writes that Lebanon’s county commissioners defied Governor Wolf’s shutdown orders by forwarding the county into a more open business plan earlier this month.
Bipartisan Effort to Put Pennsylvanians Back to Work Falls Short, State News Service (May 20, 2020). Governor Wolf vetoed a house bill that would have allowed businesses to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic. A subsequent veto override did not receive the 2/3 majority vote required under the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Metcalfe to Introduce Wolf Impeachment Resolution, State News Service (May 15, 2020). State Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) circulated a memorandum asking his colleagues in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to co-sponsor a resolution to impeach Governor Tom Wolf.
Senators Introduce Constitutional Amendment Requiring Legislative Approval of Emergency Disaster Proclamations Beyond 30 Days, State News Service (May 5, 2020). Several Republican state senators introduced legislation for a constitutional amendment providing equal power distribution among the three branches of government during emergency disaster declarations. To amend the Pennsylvania Constitution, the measure must pass two consecutive legislative sessions and be approved by voters through a ballot referendum.
Martin’s Ballot Modernization Bill Earns Final Approval, State News Service (Apr. 28, 2020). A proposed constitutional amendment passed the House and the Senate that would eliminate existing state law requiring a separate ballot or column on voting machines when voting for the retention of judges, justices, and justices of the peace. Because the action would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution, an identical action must be taken during the 2021-2022 Legislative Session before the issue can be decided by voters.
Jonathan Tamari, A Key Democratic Group Is Suing to Ease Pennsylvania’s Vote-By-Mail Laws, Philadelphia Inquirer (Apr. 22, 2020). Jonathan Tamari writes that the Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans filed a lawsuit in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court to reform mail-in voting. The suit seeks prepaid postage for all mail-in ballots; to allow mail-in ballots to be counted if they are postmarked by election day; to allow third parties to collect and return the ballots; and to create a uniform standard for verifying signatures on ballots. [Editor’s Note: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed the appeal as moot on June 4, 2020.]
Max Mitchell, Pa. Justices Nix Republicans’ Effort to End Wolf’s COVID-19 Emergency Order, Legal Intelligencer (July 1, 2020). Max Mitchell reports that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court blocked the General Assembly’s attempt to force Governor Wolf to end his COVID-19 emergency proclamation. Republican legislators sued to compel Governor Wolf to end the COVID-19 statewide emergency declaration in early June and later argued that the governor was illegally refusing to comply with the resolution. Governor Wolf asked the Court to take the case using its King’s Bench Jurisdiction, and the Court subsequently held that a resolution seeking to end Governor Wolf’s order must instead go to the governor to be signed or vetoed.
Matthew Santoni, Trump Campaign Sues Pa. Over Purported Voter Fraud Risks, Law360 (June 29, 2020). Matthew Santoni reports that President Trump, along with other Republican lawmakers, filed a lawsuit in a Pennsylvania federal court claiming that the state violated election law during the presidential primary by allowing drop boxes for collecting absentee and mail-in ballots because of the pandemic. The suit alleges that drop boxes could not be monitored by campaign poll watchers like regular polling stations and thus, there was an increased chance of voter fraud and illegality. The suit named 60 Pennsylvania counties as co-defendants.
P.J. D’Annunzio, Milone Announces Retirement as Head of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, Legal Intelligencer (June 17, 2020). P.J. D’Annunzio reports that Maida Milone, the President and CEO of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, has announced her retirement from the judicial reform organization. Her retirement is effective at the end of June and will allow Milone to focus on other endeavors.
Post-Gazette Sued By Reporter Barred From Protest Coverage, Law360 (June 16, 2020). Law360 reports that Alexis Johnson, an African American reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, was barred from covering protests about the police killing of George Floyd because the company allegedly said she could no longer be objective. The move came after Johnson’s viral tweet comparing protest-related looting to the aftermath of a Kenny Chesney concert. The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh filed a grievance over Johnson’s removal.
Max Mitchell, Pa. Justices Warned of Opening ‘Floodgates’ if They Green-Light Case for Wrongful Use of Civil Process, Legal Intelligencer (May 27, 2020). Max Mitchell writes that attorney Nancy Raynor is bringing a Dragonetti Act lawsuit against lawyers who sought $1 million in sanctions over her performance in an expert medical malpractice case. Lawyers for the defendants argued that allowing this lawsuit may open the floodgates for similar wrongful use of civil proceedings actions based on sanctions and contempt motions.
Matthew Santoni, Pa. Justices Won’t Fast-Track COVID-19 Insurance Suits, Pennsylvania Law360 (May 14, 2020). The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied a Pittsburgh restaurant’s attempt to fast-track its claim on whether insurers should cover business losses and damage due to COVID-19. Joseph Tambellini Inc.’s petition requested the use of the King’s Bench powers to fast track its case to Pennsylvania’s highest court, and further requested consolidation of similar insurance cases to streamline other common questions and discovery. Responses and amicus briefs regarding the petition argued that insurance policies, as contracts, are fact-specific and could not be addressed with broad rulings.
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Declares General Statewide Judicial Emergency, US Federal News (Mar. 16, 2020). The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania declared a statewide judicial emergency effective until April 14, 2020. During this time, county president judges are authorized to declare individual judicial emergencies to protect the health and safety of court staff and the community.
Nicholas Malfitano, School District of Philadelphia Argues Teachers Union Oversteps Its Authority in Asbestos Lawsuit, Pennsylvania Record (Mar. 6, 2020). The School District of Philadelphia argues that a lawsuit filed against it by the city’s public school teachers’ union alleging it mishandled reports of asbestos should be dismissed with prejudice because it is an overstep of union’s authority. The public school teachers are seeking equitable injunctive relief requiring the School District to maintain the health and safety of the school buildings.
Peter Hall, Superior Court Sides with Schuylkill County Dad Sent to Prison Over Debt Incurred in Custody Case, Morning Call (Mar. 3, 2020). Thomas L. Williams III was ordered to spend 11 weekends in jail over approximately $1,000 in administrative costs for a child custody case. The Pennsylvania Superior Court subsequently ruled that a lawyer should have been appointed for Mr. Williams should have been appointed a lawyer and Mr. Williams should have been given a hearing on his ability to pay these administrative costs.
LDF and Co-Counsel File Lawsuit Challenging Pennsylvania’s Prison-Based Gerrymandering Scheme, State News Service (Feb. 25, 2020). The NAACP filed a lawsuit challenging the practice of prison-based gerrymandering, which is the practice of counting incarcerated individuals for re-districting purposes as residents of the prisons where they are involuntarily and often temporarily held.
Matt Fair, PSU Ethics Case Brings Conduct Rules’ Clarity Into Question, Law360 (Feb. 21, 2020). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Cynthia Baldwin, former general counsel for Penn State, violated provisions of attorney-client privilege during the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse investigation. Baldwin worked on behalf of Penn State throughout the Sandusky investigation while also providing legal counsel to several administrators who later faced criminal charges in the case.
Abigail Mihaly, Lawyers for Transgender Women Fight PA. Law Barring Name Changes for Felons, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Feb. 14, 2020). The Commonwealth Court heard arguments in a case challenging the 1998 Name Change Act, which barred people convicted of serious felonies from legally changing their names, even if those felons were transgender individuals. The judges did not issue a ruling.