Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Luzerne County GOP Endorses

Buzz and I took the Microbus downtown tonight. We were looking for a nice place to eat, and we stumbled upon the Luzerne County Republican headquarters. We saw some action going on inside the HQ and decided to stop in.

Around a large table, the county GOP leaders were counting the ballots on the primary endorsements. Renita Fennick, the GOP executive director was pulling ballots out of a box and calling out candidate's names. About fifteen other people sat around the table tallying the results.

Several candidates anxiously listened and tallied their own numbers. Attorney Mike Pendolphi, candidate for Judge; Attorney Nanda Palissery, candidate for controller; and Robert Sipnewski, candidate for controller were the only candidates we saw in the room.

Here are the results: (Candidates in bold received the party's endorsement for the May 19th primary election.)

Judge: Attorney Richard Hughes 114 votes, Attorney Michael Pendolphi 54 votes, Magisterial District Judge William H. Amesbury 18 votes, and No endorsement 14 votes.

Controller: Attorney Nanda Palissery 51 votes, Walter L. Griffith, Jr. 39 votes, Robert Sypniewski 19 votes, No endorsement 17 votes, Edward A. Brominski 3 votes, and Alice B. Coffman 3 votes.

Prothonotary: Carolee Medico Olenginski 75 votes, Walter Mitchell 55 votes, and No endorsement 4 votes.

Register of Wills: Gina Nevenglosky 74 votes and No endorsement 54 votes.

Jury Commissioner: Frank Semanski 107 votes and No endorsement 21 votes.

Pendolphi said he was "proud to receive the Republican endorsement," and he believed "the court house needs more Republicans."

Palissery was equally pleased with the endorsement. He said "he believed it was a fair process." He thanked all of those who voted for him and said he was "proud to have the Republican endorsement."

Monday, March 30, 2009

ShamWow Pow

Where's Billy Mays when you need him? Billy Mays wannabe Vince Shlomi, the ShamWow guy, was arrested after a violent confrontation with a South Beach (Miami, Florida) prostitute on February 27, 2009. Shlomi paid the prostitute $1000 for "straight sex" at the ritzy Setai Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida. Shlomi told police that he met Sasha Harris, 26, in a Miami Beach nightclub. The 44 year old Shlomi told police that he punched Harris a number of times in the face when she bit his tongue and would not let go. Prosecutors this month declined to pursue formal charges against either Harris or Shlomi.
OVC's attempts to reach our favorite pitchman, Billy Mays, for a comment were unsuccessful.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Walter Cronkite Where Are You?

Buzz and I don't watch much on network television, especially the so called news magazine shows. We do watch network sporting events. (Buzz, although, is still reeling from his pick of a Stephen F. Austin/Robert Morris NCAA men's basketball final. Damn that new Atari computer. Buzz is going back to the UNIVAC 3000.) We find that the major networks' shows are a little too simplistic for our tastes and cater to sensationalism and the lowest common denominator. Last night our beliefs were confirmed.

Like many people in NEPA, we watched the 20/20 report on former Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan. What we saw was sensationalism at its best.

From the title of the report "Kids for Cash" to the eerie music to the "ambushing of the bad guy" to the self serving statements of the parents and the kids to shock jock wannabe Steve Corbett to the breaking down of the judge who was investigating, the report seemed to be "National Enquirer TV."

Whatever happened to fair and objective reporting without the gratuitous exaggerations and and self righteous editorial comments? We are by no means justifying or codoning the actions of Ciavarella or Conahan. What they did was ethically wrong and criminal, but the quid pro quo of "kids for cash" simply did not exist.

20/20 reporter Jim Avila was the biggest violator of objective journalism. Here are some of his quotes: Judges got "rich on the backs of children," "secretly on the take," "absurdly swift justice," "a diabolical plan," "a diabolical pattern," "devised a scheme to pad their pockets on the backs of children," juvenile center "built by the judge's cronies," "judge's spent their dirty money," "sold kids down the river," and "kids were languishing in juvenile jails." Hardly the language used by objective investigative journalists in the mold of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.

In addition to Avila's lack of objectivity, we had two particular inflammatory quotes which tickled our fancy. Shock jock wannabe Steve Corbett of WILK radio referred to Conahan and Civarella as "gangster judges were selling children into a prison camp." Corbett's quote is just emblematic of his radio schtick, where he plays of role of the "holier than thou" outraged "mad as hell" citizen.

Marsha Levick, of the Juvenile Law Center referred to the case as "probably the most egregious abuse of power in the history of the American legal system." Apparently, Levick is not a student of history, having forgotten the judicially approved enslavement of millions of African Americans and the internment of thousands Japanese Americans during World War II.

One factor that seems to be forgotten during this whole affair is the fact that in every single juvenile case, there was a police officer who charged the juvenile and an assitant district attorney who prosecuted the case present in the court room. If the juvenile shouldn't have been charged, why did the police officer charge the juvenile? If the case shouldn't have been prosecuted, why did the district attorney's office bring the prosecution? Police officers and prosecutors' duty is to prosecute crimes, not to put people in jail. Where was the outrage from them when "innocent" children were locked up?

OVC knows that if a certain judge, who will remain nameless, were assigned to juvenile court instead of Ciavarella, his incarceration rate would have made Ciavarella look like a bleeding heart liberal.

Ciavarella and Conahan deserve to be criminally prosecuted, but not for "kids for cash." They deserve to be prosecuted for taking money for the building of a juvenile center. There's the actus rea for which they are culpable.

What troubles us the most is that in the vast net that has been cast in this matter, juveniles who deserved to be incarcerated will benefit from a few eggregious examples of wrongly incarcerrated juveniles. Don't be fooled by the self serving statements of juveniles and their parents who have minimized some of the juvenile's culpability. Ciavarella's criminal actions do not vindicate every juvenile who appeared before him.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Microbus is back on the road

Buzz and I are pleased to announce that the OVC Microbus 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.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Big Tent Collapses

If Hazleton Mayor and Republican Political Heavyweight Lou Barletta is any indication of the “new” direction of the Republican Party, the Democrats can look forward to a long era of dominance. Buzz and I charged up the VW microbus (it’s clean and green and running on electricity now) and ventured into the Luzerne County Republican Headquarters last Thursday night. Buzz came for the free eats. I came to listen. We had the honor of meeting some of our fellow bloggers, who were also there to take in Lou’s words of wisdom.

Besides the oft repeated misstatements of fact about items of pork in President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan (Harry Reid’s “high speed rail line from Los Angeles to Las Vegas {which, by the way, would probably be a very profitable rail line for AMTRAK, if it were true}, Nancy Pelosi’s “mouse farm,” and the $4 billion dollars for ACORN,) Lou’s speech was full of the red meat items the hard line conservatives love.

His speech was interrupted a number of times when he bashed the main-stream media for having a love affair with Obama, waved the flag, and talked of the glory days of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America.” Oh, we almost forgot, the crowd also loved the obligatory references to the glory days of Ronald Reagan.

There was no mention of the multi-trillion dollar war of choice in Iraq, no mention of the 4000 plus Americans who died in that war of choice, no mention of the Bush/Cheney war on individual rights under the guise of national security, no mention of the utter and complete mismanagement of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, no mention of the Republican “pork projects” in the Obama stimulus bill, and no acceptance of responsibility for the Republican principles which contributed greatly to the collapse of Wall Street,.

Albeit Lou was speaking to a crowd dominated by Republicans, except for the occasional Democratic judge candidate, but his rhetoric had no sense of cooperation and no sense of reaching out to those across the aisle. No compromise. It was a “stick to our conservative principles” speech through and through. The speech is very similar to the one he gave at the Allegheny County Republican Lincoln Day Dinner last month.

Democrats should rejoice, because the rhetoric of Lou and other conservatives assure the GOP of minority status. People gave the GOP years to shove their agenda down the throats of the American people, and the result was failure.

Conservatives will say that the reason there was failure was because the GOP was not conservative enough, but the true reason for their failure is obvious --- massive tax cuts to the wealth which lead to the rich getting richer and the middle class seeing their incomes decline, deregulation which lead to a collapse of financial giants and Wall Street, a contempt for government which lead to incompetent and ineffectual actions, and a neo-con philosophy which lead to the needless death of thousands of brave young Americans and a multi-trillion dollar war of choice.

So by their logic, would we be better off with more tax cuts for the wealthy, even less regulation, less government, and more wars of choice. Buzz thinks not, and I agree with him.

As far as Barletta, he is mum on a possible run for higher office. We find it hard to believe that Barletta takes his show on the road for his own amusement. Barletta is laying the groundwork for a run for state office. There are two major statewide offices on next year’s ballot --- Governor and United States Senator.

Incumbent Governor Ed Rendell is constitutionally prohibited from running for re-election in 2010, so that race is wide open, but for the fact that incumbent Attorney General Tom Corbett has been eyeing that seat for a number of years, and we believe his is the prohibitive favorite.

Incumbent Republican United States Senator Arlen Specter, 79, has no intention of stepping down, despite his age and battles with cancer. He will seek an unprecedented sixth term, but he is a dying breed in the Republican Party. He is a moderate, the type of Establishment Republican that once dominated the Northeast part of the country. Like the buffalo, these moderate Republicans were either killed off by the voters of their own party, by the voters of their states at large, or by their timely and untimely deaths..

Specter dodged the proverbial bullet in 2004, when “politically born again” conservative GOP congressman Pat Toomey came within 17,000 votes or a few percentage points of unseating Specter in the 2004 primary. Conservatives hate Specter, and he gave them just another reason to hate him even more when he voted for Obama’s stimulus plan. Toomey is undecided, but we have heard rumblings that he wants to run for governor.

If he does, we believe Lou will run against Specter in the primary and subject Specter to a full scale assault from the right. We also believe that the conservative Republicans who dominate the votes in the GOP primary may very well push Lou to victory. Remember, Democratic registration roles swelled in 2008 when Hillary Clinton and Obama fought it out in the 2008 Presidential Primary. Much of those numbers came from moderate Republicans who switched their registrations. We don’t think they’ll be switching back anytime soon, and for that matter, conservative purists don’t want them back anyway. That factor alone may be enough for Lou to edge out Specter in the primary.

We have not seen the last of Lou. Stay tuned.