Editorials From Around Pennsylvania:

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MUDSLINGING IN SUPERIOR COURT RACE SHOWS NEED FOR NEW SYSTEM

It’s a sad fact: 83 percent of adult U.S. citizens in Pennsylvania did not vote in the election for an open seat on the Superior Court. What’s even sadder, though, is that this election was worse than usual for a judicial race.

The campaign of Republican nominee Vic Stabile released a last-minute television ad in the Pittsburgh market in which he slammed Democratic nominee Jack McVay Jr., an Allegheny County judge.

“After he became a judge, he got his girlfriend a job. Then his sister-in-law got a job,” the announcer in Mr. Stabile’s advertisement said. Near the end of the ad, Mr. Stabile looks into the camera and says, “I won’t put my family on the court payroll.”

On Friday, Nov. 1, the Pennsylvania Bar Association publicly condemned the ad, saying it violated a pledge that Mr. Stabile signed in December, which says in part, “Every effort should be made to refrain from making statements that might be subject to misinterpretation or distortion.”

The Bar Association said that it had previously asked Mr. Stabile “to immediately discontinue the ad and to furnish proof of compliance by a specific deadline.” It said Mr. Stabile acknowledged receiving the requests, but failed to provide proof of compliance by the deadline and kept running the ad.

Mr. Stabile released a statement to The Philadelphia Inquirer on Monday, Nov. 4, in which he said, “I stand by my ad. Judges should not be hiring their family members or asking others to do that for them. This issue of judicial nepotism is (of) great public concern and already has had a very damaging effect on our judicial system.”

Making matters even worse is that the Bar Association did not specify what it considered “subject to misinterpretation or distortion” about Mr. Stabile’s ad. Was is that Mr. McVay’s girlfriend and sister-in-law were never hired by the courts at all? Was is that they were hired by the courts, but that Mr. McVay had nothing to do with the decision to hire them? The Bar Association did not say, so voters had no way of knowing whether Mr. Stabile was using dirty tricks or whether allies of Mr. McVay were complaining about a legitimate ad.

This is only the latest example of why we should not have people running for judicial seats the same way they run for governor or mayor. It would make far more sense to emulate what other states have done: Have governors nominate judges and have them confirmed by the state Senate. Once in office, the judges periodically stand for retention, in which voters vote yes or no on whether to keep them. That way, there is a way to get rid of whacked-out judges, but we do not have to endure the spectacle of a mudslinging campaign.

- The Elizabethtown Advocate

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COURT SETS FAIR STANDARD FOR JUDGES

Since all citizens are not supposed to engage in “road rage” behavior while driving their cars, it might seem obvious that the prohibition also applies to judges.

But, remarkably, the state Court of Judicial Discipline found otherwise in the road rage case of a magisterial district judge from Erie County.

On Jan. 11, 2009, Magisterial District Judge Thomas Carney was driving on Interstate 79 in Mercer County, returning from a Pittsburgh Steelers game, when he came up behind a car carrying two Mercyhurst College freshmen. Judge Carney flashed his high beams at the car, but it did not leave the left lane. He passed on the right and made an obscene gesture. The car carrying the students then moved to the right lane and the driver flashed its high beams at the judge’s car. He slowed down, and when the students entered the left lane to pass, he displayed a 9mm handgun out the window.

Judge Carney pleaded guilty in November 2009 to two summary counts of disorderly conduct and paid a $541 fine. He subsequently was re-elected.

The Judicial Conduct Board, an arm of the state Supreme Court that investigates ethics complaints against judges, contended that Judge Carney’s display of the handgun was an egregious act that brought his judicial office into disrepute.

Incredibly, the Court of Judicial Discipline dismissed the case, finding in part that the judge’s childish conduct did not bring the office into disrepute because it did not implicate the judicial decision-making process. Under that logic, a judge could render a decision in a case, walk out the door and commit any crime and face criminal charges but no ethical charges, since the process by which he rendered judicial decisions was not implicated.

To its credit, a unanimous state Supreme Court disagreed on appeal, actually overturning one of its own precedents while doing so. Writing for the court, Chief Justice Ron Castille said that the disciplinary court’s decision was contrary to the very purpose of the Canons of Judicial Conduct and to common sense.

“A judicial office represents the public trust,” he wrote, “and the conduct of a judicial officer may bear upon the independence and integrity of the judiciary, regardless of whether the conduct implicates the decision-making process.”

The decision is an important one at a time when the state judiciary has been adversely affected by the wayward actions of some judges, from the minor judiciary through the Supreme Court.

- The (Scranton) Times-Tribune

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PENNSYLVANIANS TAKE NOTE, ABORTION FIGHT NOW BEING WAGED AT THE STATE LEVEL

Advocates for abortion rights scored a victory this week as the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court’s ruling striking down a major abortion regulation from Oklahoma. The state was trying to require women seeking the procedure to undergo an ultrasound and hear about the fetus’ size and possible heartbeat.

If the law sounds familiar, that’s because it’s similar to legislation introduced in Pennsylvania in 2012. That bill prompted Gov. Tom Corbett to advise pregnant women making the heart-wrenching decision to terminate their pregnancies that “you just have to close your eyes” if they did not wish to view an ultrasound image of the fetus.

The high court’s action came a week after it dismissed Oklahoma’s request to reinstate another law that would have prohibited doctors from prescribing women a combination of two drugs that are used to induce abortion in the early weeks of pregnancy.

The nine justices made no comment on either appeal. But the pair of decisions appear to signal that they are not eager to delve into cases that would let the court severely limit access to abortion or place unfair burdens on women seeking the procedure, The Associated Press reported.

The decisions are also a vivid reminder that the fight over abortion is now being most intensely waged at the state level, where efforts to restrict access to the legal procedure have proliferated in Republican-controlled Legislatures.

That includes Pennsylvania, where lawmakers have passed, and Corbett has signed, legislation holding abortion clinics to the same regulatory standards as outpatient surgical clinics.

Corbett has also signed legislation barring women from purchasing abortion coverage, even with their own money, through the state’s new health insurance exchange.

Opponents in Pennsylvania raise the appalling example of rogue abortion-provider Kermit Gosnell as rationale for efforts to restrict access in the Keystone State. But Gosnell’s acts, though monstrous, were the tragic exception to the quality care provided to women every day and they cannot be the sole basis for policy-making.

Nationally, two other cases are pending. The high court could act soon on Planned Parenthood’s request to block a Texas law that could force a third of the Lone Star State’s clinics to close. A similar bill has since been introduced in Pennsylvania.

And Arizona has appealed a ruling striking down a new 20-week limit on legal abortions. Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that legalized the procedure, allows abortions until at least 24 weeks.

Eleven states in addition to Arizona have enacted the ban, so the court could take up the issue early next year, The Associated Press reported.

In the absence of a decision declaring abortion illegal, this frontal assault on an woman’s privacy and dignity – waged largely by men – is likely to continue unabated. And advocates for abortion rights are correctly mounting a campaign of aggressive vigilance.

Opponents’ fictions to the contrary, no woman undertakes lightly the decision to undergo an abortion. It is, beyond doubt, the most personal and gut-wrenching decision some women may ever make.

Legislation requiring mandatory ultrasounds, both invasive and external, and the requirement that a woman view the image, amounts to an effort to blatantly manipulate someone who’s suffering enough already. It is an act of emotional terrorism.

If only abortion opponents were as enthusiastic in their support for life after it leaves the womb. But these are the same lawmakers who routinely vote to deny children such critical services as daycare and who vote to cut funding to public education and programs such as WIC and Head Start that help children get a good start in life.

Supporting those programs would be the really pro-life thing to do.

- PennLive.com

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The USAIRWAYS/AMERICAN MERGER: A POOR DEAL STILL

No matter what the analysts think about the merger of USAirways and American Airlines to create the world’s largest airline – and too many blindly think it’s great – Pittsburgh will suffer the consequences.

The airlines and the Justice Department announced on Tuesday they had cut a deal that the government says will make a decidedly competition-limiting merger more competitive. The combined airline is giving up a number of landing slots at several major airports, which should, in theory, boost competing carriers and limit monopoly-fueled fare hikes.

But the concessions should be considered bogus, given that consolidation after the merger would have led to pretty much the same result. As The Wall Street Journal notes, the deal affects only 112 of the new carrier’s planned 6,500 daily flights. For some reason, Justice got cold feet on this one.

And even though the deal also guarantees current service levels in Pittsburgh – 56 daily flights to 13 locales – for five years, the new American, to be headed by USAirways boss Doug Parker, will shaft the region once more.

It’s pretty much a fait accompli that a flight operations center in Moon, subsidized by millions of public dollars, will be mothballed. About 600 jobs will be lost. It’s a not-so-fun parting gift from the same airline that abandoned Pittsburgh as a hub after it snookered local leaders into building to its specifications a billion-dollar-plus new airport.

Thought to be safer here are the jobs of 700 heavy-maintenance employees. But with Mr. Parker, “safer” can be a relative term. And if past is prologue, Doug Parker will deliver yet another shaft.

- Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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MORE TO DEER MANAGEMENT THAN INDULGING HUNTERS

“Hunt, verb, (1) to chase and kill (wild animals) for food or pleasure (2) to search for someone or something very carefully and thoroughly…”

- Miriam-Webster Free Dictionary

Quick show of hands: What is the most satisfying aspect of hunting game? Is it the time spent in the natural splendor of Pennsylvania’s woodlands, the knowledge that your skill and persistence got you within range of the most skittish animals on the planet, or simply the moment when you get to kill something?

If you answered either of the first two choices, or couldn’t decide between them, then you might take issue with legislation sponsored by state Sen. Richard Alloway, R-Chambersburg, to fundamentally change Pennsylvania’s approach to deer management.

Some background: About a decade ago, the Pennsylvania Game Commission began managing the state’s deer population by limiting their numbers with two goals in mind: Improving forests and increasing the size and quality of individual deer. The idea was to bring the ecosystem into better balance and developing trophies of which successful hunters could be proud.

But, of course, reducing the number of available deer found little favor among so-called sportsmen who apparently feel that deer ought to bagged as easily as plucking a lobster from a tank in a restaurant. (At this point, we’ll refer you back to hunting being defined as a chase, and a careful, thorough search.)

Hunters complained, for many years. Now Alloway seems intent on currying their favor by upending that balanced approach to deer management with legislation to increase the size of the state’s herd. Senate Bill 1086 would “direct the focus of the Pennsylvania Game Commission back to fulfilling the duty of focusing primarily on serving the interest of the sportsmen and our special heritage of recreational hunting and furtaking.”

In other words, more deer equals happier (voters) hunters. Fair enough.

But deer basically amount to four-legged engines of defoliation. So those happier hunters come with costs: forests that regenerate more slowly, a decimation in bird populations that require the same vegetation, bigger herds roaming near and bolting across local roads.

Not to mention, increased competition for resources among the deer leads to smaller specimens. There’s something to be said, after all, for bagging a wily buck that survived lesser hunters long enough to grow huge.

Deer management build solely on the interests of hunters undermines the goal of a balanced and sustainable ecosystem that should be high on the list of priorities for every skilled, motivated and, above all, responsible sportsman.

Finding a deer to kill isn’t supposed to be easy. That’s why we call it “hunting.”

-(Chambersburg) Public Opinion

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