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Why Is the Pennsylvania Judiciary Always in Scandal?

I continue to marvel at how the Pennsylvania courts always get ensnared in scandal. My law school commencement speaker--ex-Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane--has already been convicted of illegally leaking secret grand jury material to reporters, and I graduated in 2013. Several Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices who I covered when working for The Legal Intelligencer have had to resign due to scandal or have faced judicial discipline or been convicted of crimes.

The Legal's P.J. D'Annunzio has a piece analyzing why Pennsylvania judges keep on getting in trouble. His answer: "a number of overarching factors contribute to Pennsylvania's judicial woes, from the election of judges to political cronyism, allowed to fester by a judicial disciplinary system that remains ineffective despite reform efforts." For example, one law school professor says that part of the problem is that the Judicial Conduct Board is not independent from the system it is supposed to regulate and discipline.

PA Right-to-Know Law Permits Photographing of Public Records

Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law allows public records to be photographed, rather than requiring that photocopies be paid for, The Allentown Morning Call's Paul Muschick reports. Appeals officer Kathleen Higgins said that banning photography of public documents would be like banning someone from taking notes about public documents.

PA Court: Public Employees Must Be Notified Before Addresses Released

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has ruled that government employees must be notified before their home addresses are publicly released, Newsworks' Bobby Allyn reports. The court majority said the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know law doesn't take into account how turning over a home address could cause personal harm. In a two-member dissent, Judge Dan Pellegrini said the majority was "'succumbing to unfounded fears and a parade of speculative horribles.'"

Pennsylvania AG Faces Grand Jury Probe

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane is facing a grand jury probe on, well, whether she violated the secrecy rules of yet another grand jury, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Angela Couloumbis and Craig R. McCoy report. Kane has acknowledged that ther office released information to the Philadelphia Daily News about a grand jury case that her Republican predecessors ran looking into alleged financial improprieties of J. Whyatt Mondesire, the former president of the Philadelphia NAACP. Kane argues that "that Pennsylvania law has no statute that binds an attorney general to grand jury secrecy. The state law establishing investigative grand juries makes no mention of the attorney general. Rather it imposes secrecy rules on the participants in the jury room, and it names them — 'juror, attorney, interpreter, stenographer.'"

Grand Jury Subpoena Issued to Reporter Without Judge's Knowledge?

A Pennsylvania judge presiding over an investigating grand jury squelched a subpoena issued to Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Brad Bumstead, that paper reports. The strangest part of the situation is that the judge says the subpoena--which had his signature on it-- was issued without his knowledge: "Judge William R. Carpenter, who is supervising the grand jury and whose signature appears on the subpoena issued Wednesday night, told the Trib he did not know about the subpoena until he talked with a reporter."

The judge has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate whether information has been leaked by the Attorney General's Office.

Several media-law experts told the Trib that Pennsylvania has a strong law that shields reporters from having to reveal their confidential sources.


@SupremeCtofPA Justice Allegedly Sent Explicit Emails

The Allentown Morning Call's Steve Esack has a startling exclusive about Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery: "Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery forwarded at least eight sexually explicit emails to an employee in the state attorney general's office who later shared them with more than a dozen others, emails reviewed by The Morning Call show. McCaffery is the first judicial figure whose name has surfaced in an unfolding controversy over state employees' sharing the emails that Attorney General Kathleen Kane's staff found in a review of the Jerry Sandusky grand jury investigation."

The emails first surfaced as part of right-to-know requests from the media, but Kane only released poritions of the media, Esack further reports.

According to Esack, Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille said earlier this week that a member of the judiciary could violate rules of conduct by sending pornographic emails on government-owned or personal computers. McCaffery's emails were allegedly sent from a personal account.

Newspaper Sues to Get Executive Branch to Preserve Emails

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has sued to stop the practice of Governor Tom Corbett's administration and other executive-branch agencies of destroying emails after five days, the newspaper's Bill Shackner reports. The lawyers for the newspaper argued that "the state’s practice violates the due process rights of the public seeking release of public records under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law," Shackner further reports.

In another open-records development in Pennsylvania, a grand jury judge lifted a stay blocking the release of what has been described as "as sexually-charged emails circulated among certain Attorney General staff and prosecutors during the course of the Jerry Sandusky probe," according to the Harrisburg Patriot-News' Charles Thompson.

Corbett Relents On Medicaid Expansion in PA

In huge healthcare news, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has relented on expanding Medicaid to cover more poor Pennsylvanians under Medicaid, the Huffington Post reports: "Federal regulators accepted a modified proposal from Gov. Tom Corbett (R) that will offer an estimated 500,000 low-income individuals subsidies to purchase private insurance. The plan allows some low-income individuals to be charged premiums for coverage, and permits the number of available benefit plans to be reduced from 14 to two -- a 'high-risk' option and 'low-risk' options -- according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette." This makes Pennsylvania the ninth state run by a Republican governor to accept the Medicaid expansion.

Same-Sex Marriage Ruling Final in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett decided against appealing a federal judge's ruling striking down the ban on same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania. Corbett announced the decision just one day after U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III reached his decision. Gayapolis notes that the appeal period expired last week, so the reality of same-sex marriage has really, really arrived in the Keystone State.

Pennsylvania, Oregon Become Latest States to Have Same-Sex Marriage Bans Struck Down

Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage was struck down today, just a day after Oregon's ban on sam-sex marriage was struck down. Marriages have begun in both states.

Now there are 25 states that allow same-sex marriage and 25 that don't, the Associated Press reports.

In Oregon, U.S. District Judge Michael McShane said there was no rational relationship to any legitimate government interest to ban same-sex couples from marrying, the Oregonian reports. He also found that the ban violates same-sex couples' constitutional right to equal protection.

In Pennsylvania, U.S. District Judge John Jones III said same-sex marriages must be discarded onto the ash heap of history, the AP reports. 


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