This just in from friend Russ Diamond at Operation CleanSweep:
October 14, 2005
Turn Out the Royal Justices
In 1794, Alexander Hamilton wrote, "the political putrefaction of Pennsylvania is greater than I had any idea of." Sadly, we've only gone downhill from there. The problem is one of culture - a culture of arrogance and greed among elected officials.
The insulation from reality in Harrisburg neither begins nor ends with the General Assembly. Yes, like thieves in the night they voted themselves a 17 to 54 percent pay raise, but Governor Ed Rendell quickly hailed the action and signed the bill into law (Act 44), while Chief Justice Ralph Cappy called the lawmakers' actions "courageous."
The rest is history, as they say. The public fumed. Some lawmakers backtracked by giving the money back or co- sponsoring repeal bills sure to die in committee. The Governor now admits the "unvouchered expenses" may be illegal and calls for their repeal. But the Chief Justice remains firmly in favor of the payjacking.
Why? Because the culture of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is as bad or worse than in the legislative or the executive branches.
According to the Associated Press, the "state's seven Supreme Court justices last year billed taxpayers for a total of $164,000 in food, travel and lodging," and "an analysis of expense records revealed that some expenses were not accompanied by receipts or vouchers, and some receipts were vague in describing the expense." The expenses were reimbursed nonetheless.
Luxuries the Supremes believe you should underwrite include $1766 framed pictures, car washes for their taxpayer-funded vehicles, $300 dinners and junkets to the Bahamas.
Justice Russell Nigro, despite a Supreme Court policy discouraging charges for booze, billed you $85.00 for a bottle of wine and $123.00 for three other bottles. Earlier this year he charged you $1,254.12 for four dinners and one lunch.
Justice Sandra Schultz Newman billed you for OnStar service in her taxpayer-funded 2004 Cadillac SRX. This seems a bit odd when the records show she effectively bought her seat on the bench with nearly $1.7 million of her own money.
These are not snapshots of public servants, but portraits of royalty. Their salaries of more than $170,000 per year put them among the highest paid in the nation. Their $17,000 benefits package far exceeds anything most Pennsylvanians could ever hope for.
Behind the ruling class mentality, however, is an absolute disregard for the plain language of the PA Constitution. Shortly before the pay raise, the Court upheld Act 71 - the slots bill - which clearly violated Article III, Section 1. The Court made a similar ruling in 2002 in a case involving the PA School Boards Association.
These rulings and others paved the way for the General Assembly's payjacking, which violates both Article III, Section 1 and Article II, Section 8 (twice). Lawmakers bought some insurance by including raises for the executive and judicial branches and making Act 44 "non-severable." What judge could impartially rule on their own pay raise?
Further, the Court works on the assumption of the legislature acting constitutionally, a theory most citizens recognize as an utter fairy tale.
Cappy, the architect and lobbyist for the judicial payjacking, defends lavish expenditures for attending conventions as a way to gain respect nationally for the Supremes, but many legal scholars and analysts consider our Court a laughingstock. Although a lawsuit challenging Act 44 has been filed, even kangaroos would hop away from the Court in this particular case.
Pennsylvania has indeed gone downhill since Hamilton's time and perhaps we've hit rock bottom. If so, there's nowhere to go but up. One method is to replace lawmakers. Another is to turn out the Royal Justices.
Both Newman and Nigro face a retention election on November 8. They have no opponents. Voters are merely asked if they'd like to keep these two on the bench or not. It's a simple yes or no question.
At PACleanSweep, we believe the time to get Pennsylvania moving back in the right direction is now. The culture of arrogance and greed has not served the Commonwealth well. We ask every Pennsylvanian to join us in voting a resounding "NO" on Newman and Nigro on November 8.
About PACleanSweep :
PACleanSweep is a non-partisan effort dedicated to defeating incumbent elected officials in Pennsylvania and replacing them with true public servants. For more information, please visit PaCleanSweep.com
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