PA’s chief justice critical of governor’s move to nominate top aide to judgeship
From the Philadelphia Inquirer Harrisburg Bureau:
Posted by Angela Couloumbis
HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett surprised state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille with his first judicial nomination since he became governor, and drew criticism from a top Democratic senator, who said Corbett put a favor for a friend ahead of the duty to ensure the public’s access to justice.
Corbett also bypassed the tradition of laying the groundwork for a nominee in advance with court officials and lawmakers.
Castille, a Republican, told the Patriot-News of Harrisburg that he met with Corbett a week before the Republican governor nominated his then-chief of staff, Bill Ward, and Corbett mentioned nothing of his plans.
Corbett nominated Ward, a longtime friend, last week to fill a vacancy on the Allegheny County Common Pleas Court. But Castille suggested that filling the vacancy is unnecessary because Allegheny County’s president judge, Donna Jo McDaniel, had told him her court’s caseload has declined.
Leaving common pleas court seats vacant has been a strategy by Castille since April 2010 to save money. Currently, 17 common pleas court vacancies are expected by the end of the year, including some that exist now and some that will open because of judges who have reached the mandatory retirement age of 70, said Tom Darr, the deputy administrator for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
The court system needs $8.6 million more in the fiscal year beginning July 1 to cover its costs, but that does not include a new judge, which costs the state $200,000 for salary and benefits, Darr said. The county pays for a judge’s staff.
In a statement, Corbett said serving as a judge was a long-time goal for Ward and that he is happy to help his old friend achieve it. Corbett also has denied reports that Ward’s departure from his office is a concession to supporters who were critical of Corbett’s ability to forge policy, work with allies in the GOP-controlled Legislature and broadcast a persuasive public message.
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