"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.)