Thursday, April 30, 2009

Breaking News: Justice David Souter Throws in the Robe

NBC news is reporting that United States Supreme Court Justice David Souter will not return to the court in October, but instead will retire to his farm in New Hampshire. Appointed to the Court by Republican President George H. W. Bush, he usually votes with the more liberal wing on the court. He currently ranks fourth in seniority among the Associate Justices.

Souter is 69 years old and has never been comfortable with the Washington scene since being elevated to the Court in 1990. His retirement has been rumored ever since the election of Barack Obama.

When Bush, Sr. nominated Souter, he was opposed by a number of liberal U. S. Senators, including Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, who believed he was a judicial conservative in the mold of Robert Bork. Since his early days on the court, Souter has been a reliable vote for the liberal bloc on the court.

We have been unable to confirm that Souter's sudden retirement has anything to do with Bob Powell.

We will begin the the replacement speculation in the next few days.

Sparks Fly at the GOP Women's Forum

Republican Controller candidate Bob Sypniewski apparently never heard of Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment. Reagan often quoted what he termed his 11th Commandment. "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican."

Sypniewski went on the attack against endorsed Republican controller candidate Nanda Palissery at the Luzerne County Republican Women's Meet the Candidates night. All five controller candidates attended the event on Thursday night at the Luzerne County Republican Headquarters in downtown Wilkes-Barre.

The sparks flew when Sypniewski gave his remarks. Each candidate was given a few minutes to pitch themselves before the crowd of about fifty people. Alice Coffman, Edd Brominski, Walter Griffth, and Palissery all touted their experience and frequently referred to each other in kind terms druing their presentations. The tenor changed when Sipniewski spoke last.

After his usual 15 of 16 children speech in a home with no heat or electricity, Sypniewski said "lawyers at the court house get dressed up and look real nice, but they have devious hearts." He comments were an obvious dig at Palissery, who is an attorney and many deem as the front runner.

Palissery took umbrage to the comment and didn't take it sitting down. He stood up and said he took offense to the comment, but Sypniewski did not back down.

Palissery was not the only one who took issue with the lawyer comment. Endorsed GOP judicial candidate confronted Sypniewski after the event, but Sypniewski again held his ground.

Sypniewskli didn't win any points with the GOP crowd, and one prominent Republican said she was "disappointed by the words of Bob Sypniewski. I think he crossed the line."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Controller Debate

The League of Women Voters held a debate for the six Luzerne County Controller candidates at Wilkes College last night. Pictured from left to right are Bob Morgan (D), Walter Griffith (R), Bob Sipniewski (R), Edd Brominski (R), Alice Coffman (R), and Nanda Palissery (R). About 35 people attended the debate, although we don't believe more than a handful were persuadable voters.

The candidates were allowed two minutes to offer an opening statement and two minutes to close. They were asked a series eight questions. Each candidate was given one minute to answer.

The questions ranged from the candidates views on nepotism (all were against it) to their first priority in office to "do you intend to spend 8 hours a day in the office" to the backlog of audits.

Here's what we came away with from the debate. Morgan thinks the controller's office still uses DOS computers from the 1970s, Griffith has read the county code from cover to cover, Sipniewski hates lawyers, Brominski got fired for the assessors office, Alice Coffman is an accountant, and Palissery doesn't look like a "good ol' boy."

All of the candidates seemed to be well aware of the fact that there is a mess not only in the controller's office, but in county government in general. All of the candidates stressed different startegy and tactics to correct the problems which have plagued county government over the past few years.

Palissery stressed the better use of personnel in the controller's office and blamed many of the problems on the lack of leadership in the office. He pointed out that since Maryann Petrilla left the controller's office to become county commissioner, Governor Rendell has failed to appoint a replacement. Palissery also stressed his level of commitment to the job and pledged select weekend and week night controller office hours to allow the public better access.

Coffman stressed time and again that the expertise she has gained as a Certified Public Accountant for the last eighteen years make her uniquely qualified for the job. She also portrayed herself as a workaholic who would dedicate long hours to the job. In a pledge which perked up our ears, she pledged to create a controller's blog. (Alice, if you need Buzz's assistance, you can have him, but the Univac 3000 stays here.)

Brominski stressed his years as a Luzerne County Commissioner and his years in the Luzerne County assessment office. We are unclear as to why he left that office, but he seemed to imply he was fired for being a whistle blower.

We were impressed by Sipniewski's forceful style, but we were also concerned that he may possess some of the detriments which hurt Steve Flood's cause when he held the office, primarily a confrontation nature. Sipniewski was by far the most confrontational of the bunch, attacking endorsed Republican Palissery on at least two occasions.

Giffith seems to have done his homework. He had with him a copy of the county code and a number of other documents. Griffith pledge to be in the office everyday from 8:30 to 5. He also took the strongest stand on nepotism, saying he wouldn't hire anyone in the controller's office who was related to or friends with anyone currently working for the county. Griffith also said he would either hire a solicitor from outside the county or a solicitor who had absolutely no ties county government or any existing solicitorships.

Morgan stressed the need to bring the office up to date. He said that the software system currently used in the controller's office is very out dated. He was also concerned about a lack of leadership in the office. He said his 20 years in the financial community gave him the qualities to be a good controller.

No fists were thrown, but the soundbite of the night came from Palissery. When Sipniewski implied that Palissery was part of the "good ol' boy network," Palissery, who emigrated from India at the age of two, stood up and said, "Do I look anything like a good ol' boy? I don't think so."

Palissery also had the runner up soundbite line. After hearing Coffman state that her expertise was accounting and that she would probably electrocute herself changing an electrical outlet in Stark Learning Center, Palissery quipped, "with my engineering degree, I could change that electrical circuit."

Stay tuned when OVC plays twenty questions with the controller candidates starting May 1st. (Well not actually twenty but you get the point.)

Not One of The Good Ol' Boys

Stay tuned for our coverage of the Luzerne County Controller's debate later today.

Will the Last One To Leave Please Shut Out the Lights

The defection of Senator Arlen Specter from the GOP to the Democratic Party is just a sign of the further marginalization of the national Republican Party. This is just the latest in a series of events which are beginning to look like the recreation of a national Republican Party into a regional party based in the Old South. So much for Karl Rove's "permanent Republican majority."

Specter said. "Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans."

Specter explained that his vote on the stimulus bill irked a lot of the GOP faithful. "Since then, I have traveled the state, talked to Republican leaders and office-holders and my supporters and I have carefully examined public opinion. It has become clear to me that the stimulus vote caused a schism which makes our differences irreconcilable. On this state of the record, I am unwilling to have my twenty-nine year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate. I have not represented the Republican Party. I have represented the people of Pennsylvania."

Local Republican reaction was mixed. A local well known conservative Republican was all smiles. He was elated that Specter became a Democrat, because it helped pave the way for Pat Toomey in the Republican 2010 Senate primary.

Another Luzerne County GOP big wig and longtime Specter said she was saddened with the loss of Specter to the Dems. She reminisced about her support of Specter all the way back to his first Senate run in 1980.

A longtime Luzerne County GOP elected official said he would have "preferred Specter to end his career in the Senate as a statesman, not as a weasel."

The national (or should I say Regionally Significant GOP) reaction was also mixed. Senate "permanent" minority Leader Mitch McConnell issued the following statement:

“Well, obviously we are not happy that Senator Specter has decided to become a Democrat. He visited with me in my office late yesterday afternoon and told me quite candidly that he’d been informed by his pollster that it would be impossible for him to be re-elected in Pennsylvania as a Republican because he could not win the primary. And he was also informed by his pollster that he could not get elected as an Independent and indicated that he had decided to become a Democrat.”

Here's some more national reaction, Democratic and Republicans:

"Ultimately, we're heading to having the smallest political tent in history, the way events have been unfolding. If the Republican Party fully intends to become a majority party in the future, it must move from the far right back toward the middle." — Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

"Arlen Specter gives our side of the aisle not only a numerical boost, but also an intellectual shot in the arm." — Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.V.

"Sen. Specter's decision today represents the height of political self-preservation." — Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

"Republicans look forward to beating Sen. Specter in 2010, assuming the Democrats don't do it first." — Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

"I welcome Sen. Specter and his moderate voice to our diverse caucus, and to continuing our open and honest debate about the best way to make life better for the American people." — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

"Sen. Specter has confirmed what we already knew — he's a liberal devoted to more spending, more bailouts and less economic freedom." — Chris Chocola, president of Club for Growth.

Specter's change of parties is just the latest in a trend of Northeast Republicans being cast out by an ever more conservative Republican party. The moderate or dare we say liberal Republican has been laid to rest or at least thrown out of the GOP big tent.

OVC looked back at the party breakdown of four Congresses {the 89th (1965-67), the 99th (1985-87), 104th (1995-1997), and 111th (2009-2011)}. We at the breakdown of the entire Congress and the breakdown of 9 Northeast states (ME, VT, NH, CT, MA, RI, NY, PA, NJ). The numbers show a dramatic shift of Senate and House seats in the Northeast from the Republican side of the aisle to the Democratic side of the aisle.

Over the past 45 years, until recently, the GOP controlled about half of the 18 Senatorial seats in our Northeast region, even at a time when Democrats held 68 out of a hundred Senate seats in 1964. During that time we had a number of prominent leaders in the Republican Party hail from one of the nine Northeast states, leaders like Hugh Scott (PA), John Heinz (PA), Jacob Javitz (NY), Lowell Wicker (CT), Margaret Chase Smith (ME), Edward Brooke (MA), and Clifford Case (NJ). Now, after Specter's defection, the GOP controls only 3 out of 18 seats.

In the House, Democratic percentage of Northeast House seats was generally within a few points of the Democratic percentage of nationwide House seats held. This was true until the virtual collapse of the Northeast GOP delegation. 89th (68% D nationwide, 63.8 D Northeast), 94th (64% to 58%), 99th (47% to 52%), 111th (59% to 82%).

It is true that if we analyze the Old South, we would see just the opposite -- a complete change over from Democratic control of both the House and Senate in that region to almost complete control of the GOP.

In the 1940s, the 1950s, and the 1960s, the national Democratic party had an albatross around its neck. That albatross was the intolerant and racist members of their party who were continually elected from safe Democratic districts in the South. The Democrats were able to break that stranglehold, but it cost them numerous seats in the South. It also helped in the election of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Southern Democrats, dissatisfied with their party, began voting Republican at first on the national level, and then on the state and local level.

OVC looks at Specter's decision as a wise one. Specter would have been defeated in the 2010 GOP primary, probably by Pat Toomey. Toomey would have gone on to defeat in the 2010 general election. By leveling the playing field, Specter will now fight Toomey on a turf where he will be favored. The only difference for Toomey is the fact that the Democrat who defeats him now will be Arlen Specter.

Specter didn't sell out his principles. They have not really changed. If anything, now Specter can become more principled.

Former Senator Rick Santorum gave an interview to FOX News last night. He told of how as GOP Whip in the Senate during his last term, "Arlen" was his "responsibility" to make him tow the party line. Santorum said, there were a number of times when Specter voted against his principles and in line with the GOP leadership. Without that "R" next to his name, Santorum believes Specter would have voted the other way.

The only surprise here at OVC is "What took you so long, Arlen?" Your views haven't changed over the years, but the views of the party you once called home, have.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Breaking News: Judge Mike Toole the Next to Fall

OVC has information from a source close to the Wilkes-Barre Area School District that Judge Mike Toole may be brought down in a scandal related to his days as a solicitor for the school district. We have been hearing rumblings of a Ted Stevens like home improvement scandal.

Senator Ted Stevens was convicted just prior to the 2008 election of accepting and not reporting thousands of dollars of improvements to his Alaskan home. The conviction was subsequently thrown out for prosecutorial misconduct.

Sources tell OVC that Toole may have had similar dealings with improvements to his Wilkes-Barre home.

Stay tuned.

We're Taking You to a Clambake

Buzz and I were enjoying a couple of good cigars at our favorite local cigar shop, when we were approached by a couple of kindly gentlemen who asked if we wanted to go to a clambake. Having been politicked out for the week we agreed. We were hoodwinked. We ended up at a Luzerne County judicial rally. We shouldn't have been surprised, after all, these days any room that can hold more than 25 people on any given evening is more likely than not hosting a judicial candidate's event.

We attended the Tom O'Connor rally at the Swoyersville American Legion along with 200 or so of Tom's closest friends and relatives. O'Connor welcomed us with open arms, but asked if Buzz could keep his hot dog consumption to under a dozen.

A number of county candidates were there including incumbent Democratic Register of Wills Dottie Stankovic, Deomcratic Controller candidate Bob Morgan, Democratic Proth candidates Gerald Mullery and Nancy McGinley Bellas, and Republican Proth candidate Walter Mitchell.

O'Connor gave a very brief speech, the majority of which dealt with the acknowledgement of family who attended the event. The only real substance to the speech was his pledge to "make" us "proud" of him being a judge in Luzerne County. He left the political attacks to his campaign chairman Dr. Chris Alexander.

Alexander touted O'Connor's 30 plus years as a practicing attorney, but then said we needed to elect a judge who could handle both "criminal and civil matters" without a "conflict of interest," and a judge who could fulfill a full 10 year term without facing "mandatory retirement." Both references were clear shots at Judge Joseph Musto who is conflicted out of criminal cases due to his niece being District Attorney Jackie Musto Carroll and the fact that he is 65 years old and must retire at age 70.

Stay tuned for other clambake updates in the future.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Betting Windows Are Open

The UNIVAC 3000 has been working overtime, and Buzz has a headache, but here are the odds. There are a number of variables which Buzz fed into the UNIVAC 3000, and we're proud to say that OVC is the first to post the odds on the Luzerne County judicial race.

The factors which we used were name recognition, projected money to be spent, ballot position, campaign organization, campaign message, and past election trends.

Just to recap, there are seventeen attorneys vying for only two spots. Actually, at this point, there are four spots --- two Republican nominations and two Democratic nominations. Drum roll please.

Democratic nomination:

Joseph Musto, 3-2; Bill Amesbury, 4-1; Gene Sperazza, 4-1; Tom O'Connor, 5-1; Joe Terrana, 7-1; Joe Sklarosky, 10-1; C. J. Bufalino, 10-1; Daniel Zola, 15-1; Tom Marsilio, 20-1; Dick Hughes, 25-1; Jennifer Rogers, 50-1; Mike Pendolphi, 75-1; Tina Gartley, 100-1; Mike Blazick, 350-1; Tony Lumbis, 400-1; Molly Mirabito, 500-1; Steve Menn, 500-1.

Republican nomination:

Dick Hughes, 1-1; Bill Amesbury, 4-1; Tom O'Connor, 4-1; Mike Pendolphi, 6-1; Gene Sperazza, 7-1; Joe Sklarosky, 8-1; Joe Musto, 10-1; Joe Terrana, 15-1; Tom Marsilio, 20-1; C. J. Bufalino, 35-1; Jennifer Rogers, 50-1; Daniel Zola, 75-1; Tina Gartley, 100-1; Mike Blazick, 350-1; Tony Lumbis, 400-1; Molly Mirabito, 500-1; Steve Menn, 500-1.

Has Scalia Gone Soft On Us?

The man who never met a warrantless search he didn't like, apparently has met one. In a decision that surprised the heck out of the staff at OVC, the United States Supreme Court scored a point for individual rights. But what was more surprising than the outcome, was the list of "unusual suspects" in the majority and dissenting opinions.

Arch conservatives Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas joined the majority in an opinion written by 89 year old liberal John Paul Stevens. The case concerned the warrantless search of an automobile by police when they have a person in custody in a police car. The court decided that such a search without a warrant was unconstitutional.

We will post a more detailed analysis at a future date, but what we found very intriguing in this perplexing decision was the concurring opinion of Scalia where he calls for the overruling of all automobile searches involving the "charade of officer safety." There may be hope for Antonin yet.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Controller Race Coverage Update

We have decided to include Democrat Robert Morgan (not pictured to the left) in our controller's race coverage. Morgan does not have opposition in the primary, and thus will face the Republican nominee in the November general election.

The six candidates will be receiving a questionnaire prepared by the editorial board of OVC within the next few days, if not sooner Their answers will be posted starting after May 1, 2009.

Two Outta Seventeen Aint Bad

Only two of the seventeen candidates for Judge in Luzerne County filed campaign finance reports for cycle 1, which ended March 30, 2009. Those candidates were Michael Pendolphi and Jennifer Rogers. Campaign financing may not be the most interesting subject out there, but Buzz and I have some time on our hands before the start of the WNBA season.

Pennsylvania campaign finance law requires the filing of a cycle 1 report only for candidates seeking state office (in this election, that only applies to candidates for the Commonwealth, Superior, or Supreme Courts) or candidate committees that have "expended money for the purpose of influencing the election" statewide candidates.

Neither Rogers nor Pendolphi's committees expended any money on behalf of a statewide candidate, so they did not have to file a report. In this new era of full disclosure, we must assume they filed their reports to demonstrate this new openness. Then again, perhaps they misinterpreted the law and believed they were obligated to file.

In any case, here's what we found.

Pendolphi spent $104.94 on photography, $77.36 on balloons, and $302.00 on printing of labels and pins, for a total of $484.30. All of Pendolphi's contributions were from Pendolphi himself. Pendolphi's ending balance was $0.00

Rogers' campaign report was a bit more complicated. She raised $2425 from seventeen contributions ranging from $100 to $250. She raised $1752 from unitemized contributions of $50.00 or less, and $7600 from contributions of $250.01 or more.

The $1000 plus club had four members. Ruth and Clifford Melberger gave $1000, Bettie Ann Morgan gave $1000, Ronald and Madge Rogers gave $1000, and Attorney Vincent Cappellini gave $2500.

Rogers spent $3907.78 on political consulting, postage, and printing. She had unpaid debts in the amount of $3461.42. These bills were for printing and advertising. This left Rogers with an ending balance of $4227.80, after subtracting the unpaid invoices.

So as we stood at the beginning of April neither of these candidates had raised nearly as much as the $37,000 which fellow judicial candidate Gene Sperazza gave back in lawyer contributions.

We don't expect an monetarily equal playing field out there. We fully expect some of the candidates to raise and spend less than $20,000 or even $10,000. We also fully expect some candidates to raise and spend well over $100,000.

At this point, the usual suspects for the $100,000 plus club are Sperazza, Judge Joseph Musto, Thomas O'Connor, William Amesbury, C. J. Bufalino, Richard Hughes, and John Terrana.

Stay tuned tomorrow for our judicial predictions. Buzz has been crunching the numbers on the UNIVAC 3000 for the past few days.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Happy Birthday Sulu

With all the excitement over the birthday of John Paul Stevens, we almost forgot about Mr. Sulu. George Takei turns 72 today. Even though he has never been appointed to the Supreme Court (although he was on George W. Bush's short list until that "gay marriage" thing,) we always enjoyed him on Star Trek.

Happy Birthday John Paul

John Paul Stevens celebrated his 89th birthday today and his 12,177th day (or 33 years and 123 days) as a United States Supreme Court Justice. He's ninth on the all time seniority list. Stevens would have to serve until July 16, 2011 to become number one in seniority, but on February 25, 2011, he would surpass Oliver Wendell Holmes as the oldest member to serve. According to the Social Security life expectancy table, Stevens should live 4.09 more years, so Holmes' record should fall if you believe the federal government.

For Supreme Court buffs, William O. Douglas holds the longevity record at over 36 years or 13,358 days.

Stevens was appointed to the court by President Gerald Ford and confirmed by the United States Senate 98-0. He was sworn into office on December 19, 1975. Coincidentally, he replaced William O. Douglas, who has resigned due to failing health. Prior to being nominated by Ford, Stevens served on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, having been appointed by President Richard Nixon on November 20, 1970.

Stevens' judicial philosophy has evolved over the years from that of a moderate conservative during his early years to currently being one of the most liberal members of the court. There was much speculation that Stevens would announce his retirement upon the election of Barack Obama, but Stevens has no signs of hanging up the robe anytime in the near future.

Stevens says his health, unlike that of fellow justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who has been battling colorectal cancer) is fine. People close to Stevens say that he is interested in breaking Douglas' record for Supreme tenure longevity and Holmes' record for pure longevity.

Stevens said, “I don’t think of myself as a liberal at all,” he told the New York Times in 2007. “I think as part of my general politics, I’m pretty darn conservative.” Stevens said that his views haven’t changed since 1975. He considers himself a “judicial conservative,” he said, and only appears liberal today because he has been surrounded by increasingly conservative colleagues. “Including myself,” he said, “every judge who’s been appointed to the court since Lewis Powell” — nominated by Richard Nixon in 1971 — “has been more conservative than his or her predecessor. Except maybe Justice Ginsburg. That’s bound to have an effect on the court.”

Stevens has been the senior associate justice, a position second in authority only to the chief justice. When the chief justice is in the majority and Stevens is in the minority, Stevens decides who will write the principal dissent; when the roles are reversed, Stevens assigns the majority opinion.

On the current court, in close cases, Stevens has wielded this power strategically. With himself included, he can usually rely on four liberal votes (David Souter, Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer.) The four reliable conservative votes are Chief Justice John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito. The swing vote is now Anthony Kennedy. Stevens open courts Kennedy for a fifth vote. Although generally conservative, Kennedy has a peculiar judicial philosophy which is difficult to define at times. In some instances, Stevens has assigned majority opinions to Kennedy to secure his vote; in others he has chosen to write majority opinions himself in ways that will persuade Kennedy to stay in the liberal camp.

Don't be surprised to see Stevens celebrate his 90th birthday as the senior associate justice on the court.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Justice Unfiltered

The editorial staff of OVC has been contemplating what type of coverage to afford to the Luzerne County judicial race. We have made our decision. We will be contacting all 17 candidates and asking them to forward to us any and all press releases. Those press releases will be posted in their entirety.

We will occasionally comment on the race, but for the most part, we will let our readers read what the candidates have to say in their own words. The local newspapers receive press releases and generally do one of two things -- they don't print them at all, or they cherry pick quotes which the editors or reporters believe are newsworthy.

We will see how it works.

Sperazza Caves To Public Pressure

In a move which troubles us at OVC, judicial candidate Eugene Sperazza has decided to no longer accept donations received from fellow attorneys, and he will return all he has received to date – about $37,000, the Times Leader reports.

“I have asked the committee to return or forward to a charity of the lawyer’s choosing approximately $37,000 and any additional contributions that may be received in the future,” Sperazza, a candidate for one of two open seats on the county Court of Common Pleas, said Thursday.

“Although contributions from attorneys are authorized by Pennsylvania’s Judicial Code, I feel strongly that this is the right thing to do to restore the people’s confidence in our judiciary and in our profession,” Sperazza said in the release. “After careful consideration of what has occurred in Luzerne County as well as the understandable growing lack of public trust, I feel that all questions concerning any conflict of interest should be removed from the court system.”

Sperazza said he wants to take all steps necessary to assure the people of the county that his rulings will be arrived at in an independent, fair and just manner. “If that means returning legitimate contributions from my fellow professionals, so be it,” he said.

We are troubled by this action, because as we have written in the past, we are not troubled by contributions by lawyers to judicial candidates. What troubles us and makes us stand up and take notice are large contributions by any individual, lawyer or not.

If a judge candidate has a cocktail party for $125 a head, and a lawyer and his significant other attend, we don't believe that the $250 contribution will have any bearing on judicial decision making. If it would, we question as to why that particular lawyer is running for judge in the first place. Remember, former Judge Conahan tried this tactic in 1993 when he was first elected, and we all know how that turned out.

Although it is admirable to want to restore public confidence in our disgraced judiciary, Sperazza, we believe, is only looking for some publicity in this move. We know this move will curry favor with the shock jock wannabes like Steve Corbett and the anti-lawyer crowd, but it doesn't impress us in the least bit.

Judges are supposed to be insulated from the whims of popular opinion. They should not float like a leaf in the wind, being blown in all directions. It is through this insulation from the transient nature of public opinion that they can make the tough decisions, which are not always popular. Protecting the constitutional rights of individuals is not always popular, but who among us would want those rights determined by the latest public opinion polls.

Caving to public pressure is not a virtue and not a quality we desire in any judge.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Who will be the GOP Nominee for Controller?

Five candidates have placed their respective hats in the ring for the honor of being the Republican nominee for Luzerne County Controller. Robert Morgan is the sole Democratic candidate, and barring a massive write in campaign, should win the Democratic nomination handily. In fact, in an OVC exclusive, Buzz has crunched the numbers on the UNIVAC 3000, and we are now ready to declare Robert Morgan the winner of the Democratic primary. You heard it, or should I say, read it here first. Tell your friends.

The editorial board of OVC has decided to grace our readers with extended coverage of the GOP race for controller. In the upcoming weeks, we will dedicate some extra time and blog space to the candidates and the issues in a race for a position which may be eliminated if home rule passes. Such is the life of a blogger.

We intend to send a questionnaire to all five candidates -- Edward Brominski, Alice B. Coffman, Walter Griffith, Nanda Palissery, and Robert Sypniewski. The questionnaire will contain questions hand selected by the OVC editorial board, and we hope, will be questions on the minds of voters in Luzerne County.

Stay tuned. Coming soon: Two of the seventeen candidates for Judge filed campaign finance reports for Cycle 2. Can you guess who? We'll tell you soon, and we'll tell you what they reveal.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Red Meat for the Masses

Karl Rove did not disappoint the 600, give or take a few, that attended the 2009 GOP Spring Dinner in Wilkes-Barre, Tuesday night. He gave an hour long speech which touted conservative principles, bashed liberals and President Barack Obama, and praised his former boss, President George W. Bush.

The dinner was preceded by a $500 a person cocktail party. When Rove entered the room, he mingled with the crowd, posed for pictures, and autographed programs.

Rove's speech was preceded by a partisan speech from endorsed Republican Supreme Court candidate Judge Joan Orie Melvin. In a speech that was inappropriately long for a warm up act, Melvin basically said "elect me so Republicans make of the majority of the PA Supreme Court, and we can rig the 2010 reapportionment for the Republicans." I guess that was her definition of a "strict constructionist judge," one who doesn't "legislate from the bench."

The evening got a little stranger after that when State Senator Lisa Baker introduced Rove to the crowd. Besides the general introduction remarks, Baker told the crowd that one of Rove's pet projects is to restore the legacy of President William McKinley. Yes, William McKinley!! What about George W. Bush's legacy? I guess you can't blame him, not a day goes by that Buzz and I don't hear some bashing William McKinley. Maybe he could lend us a hand in our project of restoring the legacy and honor of President Franklin Pierce.

Rove was greeted with a standing ovation, and almost immediately praised the "strict constructionist judges" who were in attendance. All seven endorsed Republican candidates for statewide courts were in attendance.

In a Rovian twist of irony he told Republicans they should not engage in "blind obstructionism" which the Democrats employed against Bush for the last eight years. Republicans should support Obama on issues which they agree, such as Afghanistan. Interesting from a man who made his political career on division and obstructionism.

Rove blamed the current economic recession on Fannie Mac and Freddie Mae. He argued that they caused the mortgage crisis, which lead to worldwide economic collapse. He claimed that the Bush administration attempt to rein in Freddie and Fannie, but their efforts were thwarted by the usual suspects --- Senator Chris Dodd and Representative Barney Frank. That accusation was a crowd pleaser.

Rove attacked the Obama stimulus plan in traditional GOP fashion by citing a few absurd examples of suspect spending to condemn the whole stimulus plan. (Like $4 billion on obesity control and smoking cessation.)

He referred the audience to the GOP alternative budget available on Representative Eric Cantor's website, a budget which stresses (you guessed it) tax cuts, free markets, free enterprise, and limited government.

Rove spent a little time explaining the GOP plan on health care. Again the plan stressed give tax credits for the purchase of health insurance, eliminating the restrictions on buying health insurance across state lines, and the old GOP favorite, eliminating frivolous lawsuits against doctors.

Any Rove or Bushie speech wouldn't have been complete without the "Bush kept us safe" language. Rove did not disappoint. He bashed the closing of Gitmo, Obama's refusal to employ "enhanced interrogation techniques (in other words, torture), and Obama's pledge to see that detainees get a fair trial and are not detained forever. He did, however, praise Obama for his renewed efforts in Afghanistan.

In what we saw as a reversal of strategy, Rove emphasized "convincing undecideds" of the GOP plan in his grassroots part of the speech. Quoting Abraham Lincoln, he said Republicans have the undecideds talked to by someone they hold in confidence in order to enlighten them to Republican ways. An ironic statement from a man who devised Bush' 2004 election victory by pandering to and hammering the base.

Rove ended his speech with the heart warming story of how he helped 61 year old Dr. Bill Krissoff receive a waiver to join the Marines and serve in Iraq as a surgeon. Krissoff's son was killed by a roadside bomb in 2006, and his younger son had volunteered to serve in the armed forces and was being deployed to Iraq.

All in all, the content of the speech was what we expected, but we were impressed by Rove's ability to give a speech. We expected a little more of a dry, statistical filled monologue. For a "behind the scenes" guy, he is a better speaker than the man he put in front of the camera. Rove was also quite personable, but then again it was a very friendly and partisan Republican crowd.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Rove Landing

Political guru and Bush's Brain, Karl Rove descended on the Luzerne County GOP tonight at the main ballroom in Genetti's in Wilkes-Barre. An overflow crowd of just under 600 attended the $35.00 a plate dinner. Buzz and I attended the event, and we hate to disappoint our devout liberal and left wing readers, but we found the former Deputy Chief of Staff to George W. Bush very congenial, funny, and actually, very approachable.

The GOP faithful, which included GOP candidates from all across Pennsylvania, enjoyed the hour long speech from the man also dubbed "the Architect." Rove received a standing ovation at the beginning and end of his speech, and was interrupted numerous times during his remarks. Buzz snapped a couple of photos of me with Rove, and Rove was kind enough to sign my program. (Picture tomorrow.)

We intended to do a complete story on the Rove speech and the GOP Spring Dinner tonight, but Buzz had some problems with the Microbus on the way home, so we'll put that off until tomorrow.

Stay tuned for our take on the Rove speech, and our take on the unusually long and perplexing speech of GOP endorsed candidate for Supreme Court Judge Joan Orie Melvin.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Franken Wins, Franken Wins, Franken Wins

From the Associated Press: A Minnesota court confirmed Monday that Democrat Al Franken won the most votes in his 2008 Senate race against Republican Norm Coleman, who immediately announced plans to appeal the decision.

Coleman has 10 days to appeal to the state Supreme Court. Once the petition is filed, it could further delay the seating of Minnesota's second senator for weeks.

"It's time that Minnesota like every other state have two" senators, a jovial Franken said outside his Minneapolis townhouse with his wife Franni at his side. "I would call on Senator Coleman to allow me to get to work for the people of Minnesota as soon as possible."

After a statewide recount and seven-week trial, Franken stands 312 votes ahead. He gained more votes from the election challenge than Coleman, the candidate who brought the legal action.

The state law under which Coleman sued required three judges to determine who got the most votes and is therefore entitled to an election certificate, which is now on hold pending an appeal.

"The overwhelming weight of the evidence indicates that the November 4, 2008, election was conducted fairly, impartially and accurately," the judges wrote. "There is no evidence of a systematic problem of disenfranchisement in the state's election system, including in its absentee-balloting procedures."

I'll Take What's Behind Door Number 3

On the old Let's Make a Deal game show, contestants would have a choice of keeping what they already won or trading it for what was behind the curtain or door. They didn't know in advance what was behind the door or curtain. In the world of political finance, we have a similar process. A large donor doesn't want his or her name showing up on a candidate's finance report, so he or she creates their own political action committee (a PAC) and then the PAC gives money to the candidate. Such is the case with PSPA.

We found large campaign donations from PSPA on both former Judge Michael Conahan and former Judge Mark Ciavarella's campaign finance reports, so Buzz did what any computer savvy person would do --- he googled it. We came up with a number of answers, unfortunately, none of them was right. We found Pennsylvania Society of Physicians Assistants, Pennsylvania Society of Public Accountants, Professional Ski Patrol Associations, and a number of others. We couldn't figure out why any of them would want to give large sums of money to judicial retention campaigns.

Then we found out who the real PSPA was and is. PSPA (Political Support for Political Action) is a political action committee financed by Attorney Joseph Quinn. On November 3, 2003 PSPA gave Conahan $10,000. In 2005, PSPA gave two donations to Ciavarella prior to the election in the amounts of $1250 and $5000. PSPA also gave Ciavarella $10,000 a month and a half after his successful retention bid on December 29, 2005.

PSPA is still active this judicial season. Quinn's group has given $2500 to Attorney Joe Sklarosky, $1000 to Attorney William Amesbury, $1000 to Attorney Richard Hughes, and $5000 to Attorney Eugene Sperazza.

The earliest record we found on PSPA is 2003. All contributions to PSPA are from Attorney Joe Quinn. Since 2003, Quinn has given PSPA $110,000.00 in contributions, in amounts ranging from $5000 to $20,000.

In addition to the Luzerne County Judicial candidates who received money in 2009, here's the list of who got the money from 2003 to the present. To make it a little more comprehensible, I've broken the contributions down into categories.

Luzerne County (non judicial)

Atttorney David Lupas for District Attorney, $3200; Commissioners Greg Skrepenak and Todd Vonderheid, $6000; Dr. Jack Consalvo for Coroner, $300; Luzerne County Commissioners Greg Skrepenak and Maryann Petrilla, $7000; Sheriff Barry Stankus, $330; District Attorney Jackie Carroll Musto, $4000; and Prothonotary Jill Moran, $4000.

Local Mayors

Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton, $750; West Pittston Mayor Bill Goldsworthy, $750; and Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty, $1500.

State Offices, including Judges and Justices

Auditor General Jack Wagner, $1000; Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffrey, $3000; Supreme Court Justice Thomas Saylor, $4000; Superior Court Judge Correale Stevens, $5000; Superior Court Judge Jack Pinella, $2000; Supreme Court Justice Debra Todd, $3000; Governor Ed Rendell, $10,000; and Attorney General Tom Corbett, $2000.

Lackawanna County Judicial and non-Judicial

Commissioners Corcoran and Castellani, $500; County Commissioners Mike Washo and Corey O'Brien, $4000; District Attorney Andy Jarbola, $900; County Commissioners A.J. Munchak and Bob Cordaro, $1000; Judge Tom Munley, $5000; and Judge Carmen Minora, $5000.

Luzerne County Magistrates

Attorney Joe Carmody, $500; Martin Kane, $400; and Bill Amesbury, $500.

Luzerne County Judges

Judge Michael Toole, $5000; Judge Conahan, $10,000; and Judge Ciavarella, $5000.

State House and Senate

Representative John Yudichak, $2250; Representative Eddie Day Pashinski $250; Senator Bob Mellow, $2500; Attorney Jim Haggerty for State Senate, $2500; Dr. Brian O'Donnell for State Senate, $3000; Representative Mike Carroll, $2000; Representative Phyllis Mundy, $4500; and Representative Todd Eachus, $1500.

PACs and other committees

Justice for All PAC, $10,000; Democratic State Senate Campaign Committee, $1300; Luzerne County District Justice Association, $200; Luzerne County Democratic Committee, $1000; and LAWPAC, $10000.

Other Judges

Judge John Mott, Bradford County, $500.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The $188,719.00 Question

In former Judge Mark Ciavarella's retention campaign in 2005, Ciavarella received 21,069 "yes" votes for retention and $188,719.00 in the form of a loan repayment from the retention committee. Ciavarella had been elected to a ten year term on the bench in 1995. Apparently in 1995, Ciavarella loaned large sums of money to his campaign. 2005 was payback time.

Ciavarella's retention committee raised $303,420.00 through a golf tournament, a cocktail party, and direct solicitation. He spent every dollar of that, but the majority of that money was $188,719.00 in loan repayments to himself. A lot of the money was spent on the usual items --- advertising, political consultants, and the expenses related to his fund raising events.

There were a few thing of note which made Buzz and me stand up and take notice. Particularly we thought the $6,000 donation to the Luzerne County Democratic Committee and the $2500 donation to Friends of Skrepenak & Vonderheid was interesting. Another interesting tidbit was the $15,000 contribution from the Makowski and Pisano Political Committee, which was subsequently returned.

To us the most striking aspect the Ciavarella retention report, besides the loan repayments, is the fact that the committee received $64,005.00 after Ciavarella's successful retention bid. A number of these contributions came in in the last few days of 2005.

Judicial candidates are prohibited from political activity, including fund raising, except for the calendar year in which they are seeking election or retention.

We wonder if all of those who gave money after the election realized that their money was going directly into Ciavarella's pocket in the form of loan repayments.

Stay tuned. The campaign finance reports are a wealth of information. Next we will answer the question, who is behind PSPA and why did they give Ciavarella's retention committee $10,000 on December 29, 2005?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Correction of "Old Billy was Right?' post

To Our Readers:

Please accept our apologies. 2009 judicial candidate Eugene Sperazza did not give $10,000 to Judge Ciavarella's retention campaign. He only gave $1250. We erroneously read a $1000 contribution as $10,000. He did however give $10,000 to the Judge Conahan retention campaign.

Norton and Buzz

Follow the Money

The mantra of the Watergate investigation by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward was "follow the money," or at least that what Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman kept saying in All The President's Men. Buzz and I decided to follow the money in the retention campaigns of Judge Michael Conahan in 2003 and Judge Mark Ciavarella in 2005.

Yesterday, we listed the 2009 judicial candidates who gave money to the two former Luzerne County judges. Today we're going to list the top contributors, but before we do we have some thoughts to pass on.

We are not in the least bit troubled by the fact that some of the 2009 judicial candidate went to a fundraising cocktail party and gave Ciavarella or Conahan a few hundred bucks for watered down drinks, Ernest and Julio Gallo box wine, and a couple of glasses of Coors Light. After all, the class of 2009 are all lawyers and the cocktail parties were networking opportunities for lawyers. There is nothing wrong with that.

Conversely, it doesn't make members of the class of 2009 saints, because they were too cheap to shell out a buck twenty-five ($125.00) a person. We'll bet you Susan B. Anthony dollars to Krispy Kreme donuts that none of those "cheapskates" were stiffing the retention campaigns as a matter of principle. So get down off your high horses and stop patting yourselves on the back if you didn't make yesterday's list.

We are a little troubled by the large contributions, those who went above and beyond the call of duty. A $10,000.00 contribution to Conahan by Class of 2009 member Gene Sperazza is one such contribution. The $4325.00 by John Terrana also gives us heartburn. C.J. Bufalino's $1000.00 is a little below the troubling line, as is Gene Sperazza's $1250 to Ciavarella. The rest are fine.

With all that said, let's start with Conahan. The list includes all contributions of $2500 or more. We tried to give as much detail with each contributor as we could gleen from the financial to reports. We'll start at the top, with the name you've been waiting for. Dr. Stanley Yamulla gave Conahan $15,000 for the 2003 retention campaign. Retired doctor Stanley Yamulla gave Conahan $10,000. We believe they are father and son

Here's the rest. Attorney Michael Butera, $10,000; Sheryl Shapiro, housewife, $10,000; Law firm of Mylotte, David, and Fitzpatrick, $10,000; Attorneys Timothy, Brian, Joseph, and John Lenahan of Lenahan and Dempsey, $10,000 ($2500 a piece); Attorney Conrad Favello, $7500; Law firm of Dougherty, Leventhal, and Price, $5000; former Luzerne County Prothonotary Jill Moran, $5000; Law firm of Ustynoski & Marusak, $5000; Attorney John Nardone, $5000; Joseph Kress of Harry's U-Pull-It, $3500; Bruce Slusser, retired, $3000; Earl Slusser, $3000; Attorney Harry Cardoni, $2500; Attorney Patrick Dougherty, $2500; and Brian Corcoran, $2500.

Ciavarella was up for retention in 2005. Here's his list of $2500 plus contributors. Various Lenahans from the law firm of Lenahan and Dempsey, $20,000; Attorney Brian Corcoran, $10,000; Attorney Conrad Favello, $8000; Attorneys Catherine and Neil O'Donnell, $7500; Anzalone Law Office, $5,250; Attorney Mark Bufalino, $3500; Attorney Angelo Terrana; Attorney William and Tina Anzalone, $3000; James and Georgia Sampson, contractor, $3000; Bonner Enterprises, contractor, $2500; Attorney Edward McNelis, $2500.

We were quite surprised to find no contributions from Attorney Robert Powell to either Conahan or Ciavarella. Perhaps he contributed in other ways. Developer Robert Mericle, however, contributed a total of $2000 to Ciavarella through contributions in his name or his wife's.

Stay tuned for tomorrow, when we'll tell you how they spent the big bucks.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Old Billy Was Right?

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."
It seems the words of William Shakespeare from Henry VI, Part II (Yes, it was the sequel) are the rallying cry of many in Luzerne County these days. Even the seventeen judicial candidates, who are lawyers themselves, are getting into the act.

A number of judicial candidates have pledged not to accept money from lawyers, somehow believing that this will insulate them from corruption. Judicial candidate Attorney Michael Blazick even has a radio advertisement in which he vows to change Pennsylvania law to prohibit judicial candidates from accepting money from lawyers. WILK shock jock wannabe Steve Corbett is also on the "no lawyer money" bandwagon, but then again he's a big fan of many screwball ideas.

Well, Judge Michael Conahan was way ahead of the curve on this one. When Conahan ran to fill the vacancy on the Luzerne County bench left by the retiring Judge Bernard Brominski in 1993, Conahan vowed not to take any money from lawyers. It was a novel idea in its time, and we all know how that turned out.

The problem is not money from lawyers. The problem is large donations from any donor. That's why the federal election code was changed after Watergate to limit the amount an individual can give to a campaign during an election cycle. The current federal limit is $2300 per person per election cycle. There is, however, no limit in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (In 2004, former US Secretary of Transportation Drew Lewis gave then Attorney General candidate Bruce Castor over $600,000 to Castor's campaign.)

OVC does not see a problem with a lawyer contributing to a judicial campaign. Campaigns cost money and somebody's gotta finance them. Why not a bunch of rich lawyers? Better than a bunch of poor bloggers. You must be a lawyer to run for judge, so it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that lawyers may know lawyers, and that lawyers might have an interest, legitimate or not, as to who gets elected judge.

The true concern should be not if some lawyer gave a judicial candidate $100, $200, or $500, but it should be who's giving $2500, $5000, or $10,000, regardless of whether that person is a lawyer, a butcher, a baker, or candlestick maker.

With all that said, let's see what Buzz found out in his search of the retention campaign finance reports of former Judges Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella. Conahan was retained to a 10 year term in 2003, and Ciavarella was retained in 2005.

Did any of the current 17 judicial candidates give any money to Ciavarella or Conahan?

Conahan received money from three of the judicial candidates in 2003, and two contributions from spouses of candidates. Thomas O'Connor, $500; Joseph Sklarosky, Jr., $200; Karen (wife of Bill) Amesbury $250; and Scott (husband of Tina) Gartley, $200; and the big one, Eugene Sperazza $10,000.

Ciavarella did a little better in 2005. He received contributions from ten of the seventeen candidates, and one spouse. Joseph Sklarosky, Jr., $125; Thomas Marsilio $125; Scott (husband of Tina) Gartley, $125; Daniel Zola, $125; Richard Hughes, III, $375; Steve Menn, $125; Thomas O'Connor, $500; Michael Pendolphi, $125; C.J. Bufalino, $1000; and the big two, John Terrana $4325 and Eugene Sperazza, $10,250.

Since the UNIVAC 3000 almost blew a few tubes sifting through the hundreds of donors in both of these campaigns, we'll save the big donors' list for tomorrow. Stay tuned tomorrow to see who gave Conahan $25,000 towards his 2003 retention campaign. (BTW, it's not Robert Powell or Robert Mericle.)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Same Sex Marriage Now Legal in the Heartland

While Buzz was wasting valuable computer time on the Univac 3000 to set his lineup for fantasy baseball, I decided to read Varnum, et. el. v. Brien (the Iowa same sex marriage case.) With that said, I guess the question that comes to mind is whether Buzz or I have too much time on our respective hands.

The unanimous decision of the Iowa Supreme Court is 69 (I kid you not) pages long and is available at the Iowa Judicial Branch web site.

Here's what I found. I didn't intend for this blog to be this long or as in depth, but then again, maybe the Iowa Supreme Court didn't intend to write a 69 page decision, either. I also intended this to be an opinion piece, but it turned more into a law review article. We'll do the opinion thing at another time.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the ban on same-sex couples marrying violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution. Equal protection clauses exist in the United States Constitution, and we assume, every state constitution. They basically grant all people the same rights or "equal protection" under the law.

In 1998, the Iowa legislature amended the Iowa marriage statute to state “[o]nly a marriage between a male and a female is valid.” Twelve individuals (six couples) challenged the law and said it violated the Iowa Equal Protection law. (They didn't say it violated the U. S. Constitution's clause. If the Iowa Court said it violated the U.S. Constitution, it is our understanding that the state could appeal to the United States Supreme Court. Now the case ends in Iowa, because the Iowa Supreme Court has the final say on the Iowa constitution.)

The couples claimed that they faced certain disadvantages due to the inability to obtain
a civil marriage in Iowa. These disadvantages and problems include the legal inability to make many life and death decisions affecting their partner, including decisions related to health care, burial arrangements, autopsy, and disposition of remains following death. They also claimed an inability to share in their partners’ state-provided health insurance, public employee pension benefits, and many private-employer-provided benefits and protections. They also explained how several tax benefits are denied.

The County of Polk (the defendant in the case) offered five primary interests of society in support of the legislature’s exclusive definition of marriage. The first three interests broadly related to the advancement of child rearing. The fourth interest raised by the County addressed the conservation of state resources, while the final reason concerned the governmental interest in promoting the concept and integrity of the traditional notion of marriage.

Conservatives should have known they were in for a bad day when, the Iowa Court stated its belief that the Constitution of its state was a "living and breathing" document and that time didn't stop at the time of its adoption in the early 1800s. Quoting the United States Supreme Court decision in the Texas Sodomy case, the Court wrote: “times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress,” and as our constitution “endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom” and equality.

In a further rebuff to the conservative argument of "original construction," the court quoted the late Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who poignantly said, “It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since, and the rule simply
persists from blind imitation of the past.”

After stating their intent to broadly interpret the equal protection clause of the Iowa constitution the court went into a long discussion as to the level of "scrutiny" it should apply. There are three levels of scrutiny a court can imply when determining whether a statute violates the equal protection clause. Strict scrutiny, intermediate scrutiny, and rational basis scrutiny.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law gives a good lay person's explanation of these levels of scrutiny.

Strict scrutiny is the toughest standard for a law to, as they say, "pass constitutional muster ." The government must show that the challenged law serves a compelling state interest and that the law is necessary to serve that interest. This standard is applied when a law attempts to discriminate against a suspect classification such as race, national origin, religion, alienage, denial or dilution of vote, interstate migration, access to courts, and other fundamental rights.

Intermediate or middle tier scrutiny applies to gender and illegitimacy. In this case, the government must show that the challenged classification serves an important state interest and that the classification is at least substantially related to serving that interest.

The final catch-all level is that of minimum or rational basis scrutiny. The government need only show that the challenged classification is rationally related to serving a legitimate state interest. All classifications not in the other two categories fall into the rational basis category.

The court sort of punts on the decision as to whether it should determine whether to interpret the law with the highest level of scrutiny when it writes: "Because we conclude Iowa’s same-sex marriage statute cannot withstand intermediate scrutiny, we need not decide whether classifications based on sexual orientation are subject to a higher level of scrutiny."

The justices totally reject the notion that the state's goal to protect traditional marriage can be a legitimate interest of the state. They believe this is circular reasoning.

They wrote: "A specific tradition sought to be maintained cannot be an important governmental objective for equal protection purposes, however, when the tradition is nothing more than the historical classification currently expressed in the statute being challenged. When a certain tradition is used as both the governmental objective and the classification to further that objective, the equal protection analysis is transformed into the circular question of whether the classification accomplishes the governmental objective, which objective is to maintain the classification."

The next rationale offered by the government was that dual gender couples provide optimal environment to raise children.

In a paragraph that's sure to anger conservatives from coast to coast, the court writes: "Plaintiffs (the same sex couples) presented an abundance of evidence and research, confirmed by our independent research, supporting the proposition that the interests of children are served equally by same-sex parents and opposite-sex parents. On the other hand, we acknowledge the existence of reasoned opinions that dual-gender parenting is the optimal environment for children. These opinions, while thoughtful and sincere, were largely unsupported by reliable scientific studies."

Again, that damn science gets in the way of the conservative agenda. Will those blasted scientists stop at nothing?

The court also wrote that if the marriage statute was truly focused on optimal parenting, many classifications of people would be excluded, (such as child abusers, sexual predators, parents neglecting to provide child support, and violent felons) not merely gay and lesbian people.

The court also did not buy the next reasons, the promotion of procreation. The court said the only "sole conceivable avenue by which exclusion of gay and lesbian people from civil marriage could promote more procreation is if the unavailability of civil marriage for same-sex partners caused homosexual individuals to “become” heterosexual in order to procreate within the present traditional institution of civil marriage.

The state's fourth reason to deny same sex couples the right to civil marriage was the promotion of the stability in opposite-sex relationships. The government offered no reasons that it does, and the court found none.

The fifth reason, the conservation of state resources, seemed to be a "throw away" reason by the government, and the court threw it away. The court said if the state wanted to "conserve state resources" under that logic more state resources would be conserved by excluding groups more numerous than Iowa’s estimated 5800 same-sex couples (for example, persons marrying for a second or subsequent time).

After finding that none of the state's reasons for enforcing or enacting the statute passed "constitutional muster," the court addressed the religious opposition to same sex marriage. They basically said civil marriage must be judged under our constitutional standards of equal protection and not under religious doctrines or the religious views of individuals.

So the bottom line -- Iowa joins Massachusetts and Connecticut as the only states to allow same sex marriage.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Judge Mike Toole Still Judge Mike Toole

In May, 1897, it was reported that legendary writer Mark Twain had died. Twain responded in a letter in which he wrote "the report of my death was an exaggeration." Well apparently the report of the resignation of Judge Michael Toole from the Luzerne County bench was also "an exaggeration."

OVC has it from a source close to the Judge that he has not resigned.

Toole, the son of senior Judge Patrick Toole, was elected to the bench to succeed his father in 2003. It was reported in late March by The Legal Intelligencer that federal investigators were looking into Judge Michael Toole with regard to uninsured/underinsured motorist arbitrations.

OVC will keep you up to date.