As a supervisor in the Common Pleas Court, Edward T. Halligan had a personnel problem and he felt the time had come to do something about it.
According to information he had received, an employee working for him in the court's pretrial-services unit, Curtis C. Carson 3d, had been habitually tardy and had been scheduling work for himself whenever he wanted.
But when Halligan scheduled a meeting with the employee in 1982 to discuss his performance, he ran into something unexpected:
Like his son, Curtis C. Carson Jr. works in the court system. He is a Common Pleas Court judge.
At that meeting, according to a memo obtained by The Inquirer, Halligan did not get to talk to Curtis Carson 3d at all. Instead, Judge Carson angrily told Halligan to stop interfering with his son.
Halligan suggested Judge Carson take his gripes to Halligan's boss, then- Court Administrator David N. Savitt. The judge did so, and within hours Halligan got a call from Savitt. The court administrator's message to Halligan was simple: Let Carson's son work whatever schedule he wants.
And so, the young Carson was allowed to continue working his own hours.
Judge Carson is not the only elected official who has a relative on the court payroll. The Philadelphia court system is rife with examples of nepotism and political patronage.
Common Pleas Court officials say the payroll is not a matter of public record. "The public has never asked me for it," said President Judge Edward J. Bradley. And if someone asked, he said, "I wouldn't give it to them. . . . An employee has a certain amount of right to privacy. . . . It could be used for various wrong purposes, such as solicitation. "
But copies of the Common Pleas and Municipal Courts' combined $55 million payrolls obtained from the city controller's office show that at least 30 of the 120 judges in the system - one in four - currently have relatives working for the courts. Many more previously have had kin in court jobs, or children hired into the court's summer-intern program.
Five top-level administrators in the court system have relatives on the payroll, as well, records show.
The Carson case demonstrates how nepotism can go beyond mere hiring. In an interview, Savitt paraphrased Judge Carson as having told him that supervisor Halligan's actions regarding the judge's son were "terrible and improper. "
Savitt said that one of his reasons for letting the younger Carson work flexible hours was that "I knew Curtis Carson was a vociferous judge, and I wanted the court to run smoothly. "
Several months later, the situation became moot when Curtis Carson 3d resigned. But he took another job on the court payroll - as a judicial assistant. The payroll shows he makes $20,979 a year.
His boss? His father, the judge.
The younger Carson declined to be interviewed. Judge Carson said he did not remember meeting with Halligan, but he said he saw nothing wrong with getting involved in his son's court job in any case. "Why shouldn't I?" he asked.
Carson also said he saw nothing wrong with the court's hiring judges' relatives. "I think the policy should be to pick the most qualified," Carson said. "If that happens to be a relative, fine."
A. Joseph Teti, the $61,505-a-year chief deputy administrator of Common Pleas Court - whose duties include overseeing the hiring process - has a daughter, a daughter-in-law and two nephews in court jobs. The daughter-in-la w, he points out, was hired long before she married his son. Teti says all are well-qualified and adds, "I'm just sorry I can't get more of my family members on the court. "
The $25,000-a-year first deputy to Clerk of Quarter Sessions Edgar C. Campbell Sr. - whose office is caretaker for hundreds of thousands of official
criminal-case records - is the boss' son, Edgar C. Campbell Jr.
All of the judges and court officials interviewed described their relatives on the payroll as well-qualified and hard-working.
One judge said he once hired his daughter because he had been away from her for some time and wanted to get closer to her. Another said he hired his wife after she had lost her previous job.
The hiring practices of the court system are greatly affected also by political patronage. "The court system is a vast enterprise of patronage," said Common Pleas Court Judge Leon Katz. "It has tentacles that reach into the pocket of every taxpayer. "
President Judge Bradley defends the hiring process. "I think we have, by and large, a good work force," he said in an interview. Noting that most of the court's jobs now require testing, Bradley said, "No matter who you are, if you flunk that test, you're not going to be hired. "
Bradley acknowledged that some job-seekers could not easily be ignored. "I have to get a budget through City Council," he said. "Perhaps a councilman will recommend a relative for a job. I have to consider that. "
Common Pleas Court Judge Savitt said that during his years as court administrator, from 1975 to 1983, he received an average of about one request a day from politicians and judges trying to get relatives or friends hired.
"There are frequent recommendations for jobs from people in politics or people in government," Savitt said in an interview. "The court operates not in a vacuum. A court administrator cannot tell a city councilman to go fly a kite. We depend on City Council for our budget. "
While stressing that he tried to hire only qualified applicants, Savitt said of politicians' requests: "Some of these recommendations were for the highest-quality people. But some of them weren't."
THE PARTIES AND THEIR SWAY
Among those hired in the 2,441-person court payroll have been relatives of Democratic and Republican Party leaders, relatives of former party leaders, relatives of ward leaders, relatives of current and former legislators and dozens of relatives of the parties' basic infantry: the committee person.
Longtime city Republican leader William A. Meehan has six relatives - all of them in-laws or spouses of in-laws - on the current payroll. Their annual salaries total $154,117. Meehan makes a distinction between the four relatives "I got hired" and two others who, he says, got court jobs without his help.
"I put enough other people's families on," Meehan said in an interview. ''I can put some of mine on. They were four of the best (Republican) committeemen in Philadelphia! I'll show you the records if you don't believe me. "
City Democratic Committee chairman Joseph F. Smith has a niece earning $14,013 on the Municipal Court payroll. She was hired Aug. 6, 1984, a little more than a year after Smith became party chairman. Ward 5 Democratic leader Peter J. Camiel, the former city Democratic chairman, has a brother working as a $20,978-a-year court officer in Common Pleas Court. Camiel's sister-in-law earns $31,574 as assistant chief court crier. Camiel says his son, a $22,242 jury-selection officer, got his job "on his own. "
Ward 41 Democratic leader Nicholas P. Stampone's son earns $20,356 as a judge's personal aide.
The list goes on and on.
Former City Councilman Melvin J. Greenberg, a practicing lawyer, earns $28,313 as the Municipal Court's part-time solicitor. Former City Controller Thomas Gola's son is a $22,249 Common Pleas Court judicial aide.
Former state Rep. German Quiles (D., Phila.) is a $22,449 court officer in Municipal Court. So is former state Rep. Henry J. Giammarco (D., Phila.).
Ward 58 Democratic leader Michael Stack's wife is a $21,217 law clerk. Ward 1 Democratic leader James J. Tayoun's daughter was hired last April as a $13,714-a-year clerical assistant. She resigned Dec. 26.
With the exception of each judge's office staff, all court employees must pass standard tests to get hired. For a time, the court's administrative rules even included a pledge to hire, fire, promote and demote on a merit basis, unswayed by "political opinion or affiliation. " Later that phrase was changed to "other non-merit factors. "
But city political leaders talk as if political ties do influence the hiring process.
Republican leader Meehan, Democratic chairman Smith and former Democratic chairman David Glancey speak in candid terms about the court payrolls and how many jobs are filled through patronage.
In an interview, Glancey recalled how the system was explained to him - not by other politicians, he said, but by Judge Savitt, who as court administrator was in charge of hiring.
Savitt told him the hiring ratio: For every three jobs filled by the city Democratic committee, the Republicans got one job.
"It's almost as if it's a gentlemen's agreement . . . ," Glancey said. ''It's not written anywhere. "
Meehan said he started recommending party people for court jobs as a committeeman after graduating from college in 1948 and could not possibly estimate how many he had actually gotten hired.
The veteran Republican leader disagreed with Glancey's description of a 3-1 ratio, saying with a smile, "I ask for a lot. " But he declined to put a figure on how many of his people actually are hired.
"You try to pick people who have done the best work (for the party)," Meehan said. "You try and reward everybody and let everybody feel if they do the job, they have a chance to be rewarded. "
He contended that the rise of civil-service systems and government professionalism, over decades, has greatly reduced the parties' influence. Meehan said the judges themselves exercise internal patronage; a number of the court's job openings are filled by people who "come from a judge," he said.
"Could be a relative," Meehan said. "Could be a friend. "
Democratic chairman Smith says the hiring of judges' relatives is "all done hush-hush-like," without the parties' involvement, and he doesn't like it. "I would rather see political patronage than I would nepotism," he said.
Smith insisted he had succeeded only in getting a few party-sponsored workers hired since he became the party's titular leader in 1983. He, too, said that much of the patronage system had given way to stricter hiring standards.
But Smith talked about the court payroll as if he were part of the hiring authority. "Now remember," he said, "those jobs don't come up every day. Unfortunately for me, not too many Democrats are leaving jobs. " Thus, he explained, not enough spaces were available to be filled by new party-backed job applicants.
And he said that state legislators, City Council members and other politicians sometimes gave him headaches by going directly to the court's administration for patronage jobs. That can lead to one or another politician's getting an unfair share of jobs, Smith explained. "We like to lay the jobs around evenly," he said.
In some cases, city officeholders who help determine the court system's annual budget also try to have relatives hired. But they don't always like to talk about it.
In August 1977, the Common Pleas Court hired the daughter of City Councilman Joseph E. Coleman to work in public relations.
Coleman, who is now Council president, has said he did not try to use his influence to prompt the hiring of his daughter, who now earns $24,546 a year.
Court files contain a letter dated July 5, 1977, in which Coleman wrote to Savitt, "reminding you" of his daughter's job application.
"Please," the letter said, "let me hear from you on this matter soon. "
She was hired six weeks later.
A JUDGE ENLISTS HIS WIFE AS AIDE
When Dveral Silberstein wasn't reappointed to the city Zoning Board after Mayor Goode took office, she needed a job. When her husband, Municipal Court Judge Alan K. Silberstein, could not dissuade his judicial aide from quitting, he had a $22,249-a-year opening for a personal aide on his staff.
It was a match made in the court system.
Judge Silberstein said his wife was eminently qualified for the job, with her experience on the Zoning Board. Before that, she had been a schoolteacher. He said the situation created no conflicts, but he said he could see how hiring a relative could lead to problems.
"It all depends on the relative and the person," Judge Silberstein said. ''Obviously, you would have more control over a stranger. If there's a stranger, and they're not doing the job, you fire them. You may think twice about the relative. "
Last November, Dveral Silberstein was reappointed to the Zoning Board, and she resigned from the court payroll.
JUDGE'S DAUGHTER BECOMES HIS SECRETARY
Given the size of the court's total work force - more than 2,000 people - President Judge Bradley believes that the number of judicial relatives on the payroll - less than 2 percent - is quite small. "I don't consider that an inordinate number," he said in an interview.
Common Pleas Court Judge William M. Marutani says any hiring of kin creates a public suspicion that someone has received special treatment.
"I don't think any judge should have any relatives on the payroll! " Marutani said loudly in an interview. "It is because you are a judge that you should be above suspicion. "
Common Pleas Court Judge Lynne Abraham doesn't have any relatives on the payroll, either. "It always looks bad, even if they're competent," she said. ''So I'd rather not do it. "
Municipal Court Judge William Brady Jr. agrees.
"As a general rule," he said, "I shouldn't hire a close relative to be on my staff. "
But he broke his own rule. In early 1984, his daughter, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, became his judicial secretary at a salary of $18,269. She stayed in the job 11 months before leaving for a school for designers in England, he said.
"I took the position I'd like to have her around me," Brady said in explaining why his daughter had taken the job. "I'd been away from her for a while. Obviously, it wasn't the best thing in the world."
Many other judges in the Philadelphia court system are not so contrite about nepotism.
Common Pleas Court Judge Eugene E. J. Maier said he would not be concerned about the appearance of having even a large number of relatives on the payroll. If the courts had only 100 employees, and his relatives "were 100 out of 100, that might be something," Maier said.
"Do the people perform their jobs? Are they qualified properly? What difference does it make if they are related or not related? " Maier said.
His sister, Patricia C. Averill, was hired as a court computer-programs analyst at $25,313, before Maier, a former city commissioner, came onto the bench.
After Maier became a judge, his daughter, Elizabeth, was hired as a clerical assistant. She now earns $14,013. Maier said he had suggested that she apply for a court job and "probably" had asked President Judge Bradley to hire her.
Another Common Pleas Court judge with more than one relative working in the court system is Charles P. Mirarchi Jr. His relatives on the payroll now number eight and include a sister, a daughter, two nieces, two nephews, a son-in-law and the son-in-law's brother. The yearly salaries of those employees total $198,801. Mirarchi has said he sees nothing wrong with having
qualified relatives on the payroll.
The wife of Common Pleas Court Senior Judge John A. Geisz has been his secretary for eight years. When she was hired, she had had 10 years' legal experience at the U.S. attorney's office, and Geisz calls her the "best secretary" he's ever had. Geisz's son-in-law was his law clerk for a time before being hired by the district attorney's office about three years ago.
Geisz said that he also had tried to get his daughter to work in the court system but that she had refused. "I asked her to come work for me, but she wouldn't have anything to do with it. "
Other judges with relatives on the payroll include Municipal Court President Judge Joseph R. Glancey and Common Pleas Court Judge Alex Bonavitacola, who is a member of the state Judicial Inquiry and Review Board. Glancey's wife has been his secretary since 1980. Bonavitacola's wife was hired in April 1985 as a $19,731-a-year secretary.
In January 1978, Common Pleas Court Judge James R. Cavanaugh wrote to Judge Savitt: "I had my son resign a lucrative position as a busboy in a restaurant-bar because I thought the atmosphere was not good. I now feel responsible for obtaining substitute employment for him. . . . Are there any parttime positions open for a college student . . . ? "
Cavanaugh's son was hired three weeks later as a temporary clerk. He later attended law school and rejoined the court last September as a $21,217-a-year law clerk. Judge Cavanaugh, who was elected to Superior Court in 1979, said in an interview that he did not recall writing the note but added that judges' relatives were hired "quite a bit" when he was on Common Pleas Court.
AFTER RESIGNATION, A NEW COURT JOB
One Common Pleas Court judge who no longer is on the bench, Paul A. Dandridge, did not use the system to hire his relatives. But through the system, he helped create a new job that he himself later filled almost immediately after his retirement.
While still on the bench in 1983, Dandridge served on a three-judge panel monitoring the city's compliance with a court order requiring the reduction of its prison population. As part of his duties, he regularly conducted hearings to determine whether anyone in the city's jails might be eligible for bail and therefore could be released.
On June 29, 1983, the three-judge panel agreed to appoint a paid bail master to hear these cases several times a month instead of having a judge do it.
Dandridge, according to an April 1983 memo, was consulted about the new post and helped decide how often hearings should be conducted.
On Aug. 1, 1983, Dandridge resigned from the bench at age 57 to go into private business.
On Aug. 17, 1983, the two remaining members of the three-judge panel, Eugene H. Clarke Jr. and Theodore Smith, appointed their former colleague Dandridge as the paid bail master.
Neither Clarke nor Smith felt there was anything improper about Dandridge's taking a job that he had been instrumental in setting up as a judge. "He didn't resign with the idea that he was going to be bail master," said Smith in an interview. "After he resigned, there came the question of a bail master. . . . I couldn't think, nor could he, of a more logical person for the job. "
Dandridge did not answer numerous phone messages and declined a written request to be interviewed.