Monday, September 24, 2007

Retain the Superior Court's Correale Stevens, an Accessible Workhorse

Correale F. Stevens is the last of three judges seeking retention on the state superior court. I'll be supporting his bid. Most judges, once they don those black robes, tend to become aloof. But Stevens, in vast contrast to the norm, has made an effort to remain accessible to those he serves. His opinions are slightly right of center, but they also support individual liberties and an independent press.

Who is Corry Stevens?

Most appellate judges come from Philly or the Pittsburgh area, and simply lack the perspective that can be provided by someone outside their big city arenas. But Judge Stevens is a product of the coal regions, a "cracker." He lives in nearby Luzerne County.

Judge Stevens is a graduate of Dickinson School of Law, where he was a member of law review. After that, he served four terms as a state representative. That might explain his responsiveness. I sent him an email with a question about his teaching experience, and he replied the very next day with a very nice letter. That's very unusual from a sitting appellate judge. You usually have to jump through all kinds of hoops just to get an audience with a county judge's butler, but this superior court judge was both responsive and friendly.

After his stint as a Republican state rep, Stevens was elected Luzerne County DA in 1987. When his term was complete, he was elected county judge, and won his seat on the superior court in 1997.

What's highly unusually about Stevens is his attempt at outreach. In addition to teaching one evening every week at Penn State's Hazelton campus, he volunteers to speak at elementary and high schools about the judicial system. He has even held a town meeting in a local auditorium to hear questions and concerns about the courts in general. And his name is all over google as a judge in the statewide mock trial program, and that's strictly as a volunteer.

In his email, Stevens explains his efforts at bringing the courts closer to the people. "It is good for elected officials to be active in the community to listen to concerns of people, and to share thoughts on the workings of our government and to encourage students to learn about their government."

A Judge Unafraid to Speak Out

Let's be honest. Most judges duck issues, hiding behind their black robes. But Stevens is unafraid to address the most controversial of political issues, including our undocumented workforce. Although I disagree completely with his position, I am impressed that he thinks enough of the voters to be honest with them. As Max Baer said when he ran for the state's high court, "I think you have a right to know what I feel, what I believe in, who I am."

Stevens a Superior Court Workhorse

Judge Stevens has 354 published online opinions, and that's 50% more than the combined total of the two other superior court judges seeking retention - Orie Melvin and Musmanno. Only 39 of these are concurring or dissenting opinions, evidence that Stevens is a consensus builder.

His opinions reflect a judge who is prosecution-oriented, but who respects important constitutional rights.

He has been consistently tough on sex offenders. This includes a decision upholding a conviction for possession of child pornography. Although a defendant had merely viewed this type of porn on his computer, that was sufficient to uphold a criminal conviction for possession. "[Defendant's] actions of operating the computer mouse, locating the Web sites, opening the sites, displaying the images on his computer screen, and then closing the sites were affirmative steps and corroborated his interest and intent to exercise influence over, and, thereby, control over the child pornography."

He has also ruled that a fourteen year old child who shot at someone near innocent bystanders, can be tried as an adult. And when Pier 34 collapsed in Philly, causing three deaths and injuring forty-three people, Stevens dissented from a ruling that disallowed a felony prosecution. The supreme court eventually agreed with him.

Although tough on crime, Stevens has supported individual liberties.

In a defamation case by a police officer against a Lancaster newspaper that had published a letter to the editor, Stevens ruled that actual malice had to be established. His ruling was recently reversed, which is bound to have a chilling impact on free and open discussion.

Although he ruled against a gay couple's right to adopt, he made clear his decision is demanded by the letter of the law, not the sexual orientation of the couples seeking adoption rights. He just feels that it is up to the legislature, not the judiciary, to expand existing law.

Conclusion

While Judge Musmanno may be the superior court's long ball hitter, Stevens is their utility player. Day in and day out, he has been a workhorse. Not the usual judicial elitist, he is responsive to the people, has conducted town halls, speaks out on issues and even answers email. His decisions are conservative, but well-reasoned. I will vote to retain Stevens.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Since this guy is a Republican and you have blasted the other R judges you have retained your credibility.
Thanks for the investigative effort.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 9:50,

My feelings about Saylor and Orie Melvin have little to do with their political affiliation. Both of those jurists have engaged in conduct off the bench that tends to bring the judiciary into disrepute.

In Stevens' case, his decisons demonstrate he is fairly conservative. But it's unfair to hold that against him when his opinions are well-reasoned.

Of the three judges seeking retention on the super court, his online opinions reveal him as the hardest worker by far.

Also, he makes a sincere effort at outreach during a time when many of us are disgusted. Since my main objection to judges as a whole is that theyt've become too isolated, that really means a lot to me.

Another thing he has going for him is that he is outside the orbit of Philly and Pittsburgh, and I think that enables him to understand life outside the big city a little better.

I still have 3 commonwealth court judges to go!

Thanks for your nice words. I do try to point out the party of each jurist. In my experience, that has meant very little.

Gort said...

I always vote NO on retention of Judges. Maybe it's just out of habit or I'm just a contrarian bastard.

Gort said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bernie O'Hare said...

Gort, I know many who feel as you do. I am generally opposed to retention, but will vote to retain a good judge. I think Stevens fits that bill. You also have a selfish reason. He's a coal cracker like you

Gort said...

Bernie,

I applaud your great work on the Judges. This is the kind of education that should be in the papers.

Just because Stevens, or anyone else, is from my neck of the woods doesn't mean I will vote for him.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Gort,

Understood, my man. And I believe we need to re-examine how we select our appellate judges, but still think the people should have the final say.

Anonymous said...

Nice sideburns

Anonymous said...

Bernie, you're still attacking judges! Isn't this why you lost your license to practice?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 3:22,

So four I've reviewed four appellate judges. I believe two should be retained, including the judge discussed in this post. How do you construe that as an attack?

Insofar as losing my license, it had nothing to do with criticism of the court. It had everything to do with my own misconduct, the product of alcoholism.

Julian Stolz said...

no
no
no
67 times no.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Julian, PaCleanSweep has taken Orie Melvin off their automatic NO list.

Julian Stolz said...

Bernie,

She's still on mine

J. Spike said...

He looks like Justice Ace Ventura

L. Chappie said...

Thank you so much for your very thorough coverage of all the judges up for rentention votes. I could not find any other information online which would give me a summarization of their work. I can finally make a well thought out vote during the elections this year.

Bernie O'Hare said...

l. chappie!

Thanks so much! That means a lot to me.