Please, please don't vote for Judge Willis W. Berry Jr. of Philadelphia for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Do not vote for Berry under any circumstances. Not even if you should lose your balance in the voting booth, and the only way to break your fall would be to lean against the button next to Berry's name. Don't touch it.
So little did The Inquirer Editorial Board think of Berry's candidacy that we didn't even mention his name a week ago in our endorsement of Democratic Judges C. Darnell Jones 2d and Debra M. Todd for the Supreme Court. Berry was rated as "not recommended" by the Pennsylvania Bar Association. And then there's the report in Sunday's Inquirer about Berry's shameful record as a landlord.
Berry, a Common Pleas Court judge, owns 11 properties in North Philadelphia, many of them decrepit and unsafe. Neighbors say one of Berry's vacant buildings at Erie and Sydenham has become a haven for drug dealers. Judge Berry is supposed to be locking up such people, not providing them with a habitat in which to ply their illegal trade. The city has found numerous code violations at his properties; tenants have found mice and roaches.
The city's Department of Licenses and Inspections ordered Berry to fix or demolish a four-story building at 1435 Poplar St. after an Inquirer reporter made inquiries. Meanwhile, neighbors said they have complained to Berry and the city for years about the property. Did L&I fail to get serious with Berry previously because he is a judge?
Not only is Berry a neglectful landlord, he also may have violated state ethics rules by managing his properties from his judicial offices. One of his advisers promised to "put a stop to that."
People can admire Berry's rise from humble beginnings to a city judgeship. Two years ago, the Philadelphia Bar Association recommended him for retention to a 10-year term on the court of common pleas, and this newspaper seconded that motion. But Berry clearly is a bad choice for state Supreme Court, compared with his rivals and in light of the new information about his record as a landlord.
If voters were well acquainted with the candidates, Berry wouldn't stand a chance. But here's the thing: Voters often don't know enough about statewide judicial candidates, who tend to campaign in obscurity. Worse, Berry was awarded the top ballot position among the four Democratic candidates. Running in Philadelphia, where the mayor's race is likely to generate turnout higher than in other regions of the state, Berry could attract a significant number of votes. That would be extremely unfortunate.