Buzz and I are pleased to announce that the OVCMicrobus is back on the road. It's hard to find parts for such a classic ride, but Buzz was able to get the job done. There have been some major developments in Luzerne County over the past few weeks, but no election news is bigger than the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision to remove the judicial seat formally held by Ann Lokuta from the ballot.
The Supreme Court decision was brief and without an opinion. There was one dissenting Justice, Justice Seamus McCaffery. The Court wrote:
"The consolidated matter is REMANDED to the Court of Judicial Discipline for the limited purpose of that court considering Petitioner’s claims in the nature of after-discovered evidence, arising from the recent revelations of corruption in Luzerne County. The Court of Judicial Discipline is to determine whether the new evidence requires a further hearing and/or whether it affects the existing determination of the Court of Judicial Discipline to remove Petitioner from judicial office."
"Furthermore, the December 9, 2008 order of the Court of Judicial Discipline is STAYED pending remand and a final determination of this matter, and the Secretary of the Commonwealth is directed to refrain from placing Petitioner’s judicial seat on the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County on the May 2009 primary ballot. This stay is entered solely for the purpose of ensuring that Petitioner’s seat on the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County is not placed on the ballot until final resolution of this judicial disciplinary matter, and is not to be construed as this Court taking any position on the merits of Petitioner’s appeal or her after-discovered evidence claim."
We here at OVC don't believe any new evidence will change the opinion of the Court of Judicial Discipline. Lokuta may not have been corrupt, like her former brethren Judges Mike Conahan and Mark Ciavarella, but she certainly deserved to be removed from the bench for her actions during her 15 years as a Luzerne County Judge.
Lokuta abused her position in a way much different than Conahan and Ciavarella. Her biggest failing was that she lacked the judicial demeanor which is required by anyone who dons the judicial robe. Her courtroom antics brought disgrace to the bench, and had absolutely nothing to do with her taking on the "good ole boy" network. Lokuta was incompetent, arrogant, and just plain rude to jurors, lawyers, court staff, and anyone who got in earshot or eyeshot. Judges don't have to be Mr. or Ms. Congeniality, but there is a certain amount of decorum that becomes the office. Lokuta showed none of this.
What we find so troubling is the belief that since Conahan and Ciavarella went down in a flurry of corruption that Lokuta is somehow vindicated. Conahan and Ciavarella were only two of a myriad of witnesses who testified to Lokuta's erratic and un-judicial behavior. Lokuta was deservedly ousted from the bench, and we hope and pray that the reprehensible actions of Conahan and Ciavarella in unrelated matters do not become the reason to overturn the decision of the Court of Judicial Discipline for her removal from the bench.
Now to the election matter. Three open seats is a big difference from two open seats with seventeen candidates vying for those positions. What is even more troubling is the fact that the deadline to withdraw from the May primary was yesterday, the day the Supreme Court ruled. As far as we know, all seventeen candidates are still on the ballot.
We do expect some of the candidates to use this election as a warm up for 2011. In 2011, there will be at least three seats up, and possibly five. Judge Hugh Mundy reaches mandatory retirement in the next two years. Ciavarella's seat will also be up, as well as Lokuta after she loses her appeals. The other two possible seats are those currently occupied by Judge Thomas Burke and Judge Peter Paul Olszewski. Both jurists are up for retention and with the current atmosphere in Luzerne County, retention is no sure thing. Eventhough neither Burke nor Olszewski have been implicated in any corruption scandal, that may not be enough to save them in a "Throw the Bums Out" year.