MOVE OVER, Judge Willis Berry. While you have served ably as the poster boy for merit selection of judges - by running a real-estate business out of your chambers, for which you were suspended for four months, and petitioned by the Bar Association to step down - there's a new poster boy.
Actually, the new poster features a duo: Democratic Party treasurer Frank Oliver and Democratic Party chair Bob Brady.
According to a recent Inquirer report, the dynamic duo invited 27 judges who are running for retention to a breakfast meeting, and told the candidates that party support would cost them $10,000 each.
Correction: Oliver told them, only when Brady stepped out of the room, because his presence during such a conversation could violate campaign rules restricting his fundraising activities. Later, when reporter Bob Warner pressed him on details, Brady was able to hold up his hands and say coyly, "I wasn't in the room."
Oh, we can all sleep like babies knowing that the judicial system is in the good and wise hands of the party machine, in which the size of a judge's bank account is the only thing that matters in giving him or her support.
(We'd sleep even better knowing that the system is in the hands of judges who would stand up to this kind of extortion, and blow the collective whistle.)
The only thing that can keep us from complete despair is the fact that the move for merit selection of judges actually seems to be making some progress in Harrisburg.
After years of debate and advocacy, especially from Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, the state House of Representatives last month introduced a bill, sponsored by Rep. Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, and cosponsored by Rep. Josh Shapiro, D-Montgomery, that would amend the Constitution to allow for a nominating commission to review judicial candidates and make recommendations to the governor for appointment. This bill would cover only the three statewide appellate courts: the Supreme, Superior and Commonwealth courts, but it's a good start. We hope the momentum stays on ultimate passage.
Money and politics don't belong near the bench. Only six states continue to use partisan elections for judicial selection; Pennsylvania shouldn't be one of them.
On second thought, maybe we shouldn't be so quick to kick Willis Berry off the poster. Berry, who was preceded by Traffic Court Judge Willy Singletary, who passed the hat at a motorcycle rally and suggested that a donation would help in future sentencing, admitted to using judicial resources, including his secretary, to run his property business out of chambers from the time he was elected in 1996.
Berry should pose with the two others, since he was, after all, endorsed by the Democratic Party.