Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Commonwealth Court Judge Doris Smith-Ribner: Most Appealing of the Appellates

I've saved the best for last. Of the seven appellate jurists seeking retention, Commonwealth Court Judge Doris A. Smith-Ribner, is the most appealing. I'll vote to retain her November 6.

Who is Doris A. Smith-Ribner?

A Democrat from Pittsburgh, Smith-Ribner was first appointed to the bench, as an Allegheny County judge, in 1984. Three years later, she was elected to the Commonwealth Court. If her retention bid succeeds, she'll have to step down in 2015 when she reaches mandatory retirement age.

In contrast to an accessible judge like Cory Stevens, Smith-Ribner likes her privacy. In fact, she actually refused to answer portions of a PBA-designed questionnaire asking her about her marriage. Beyond admitting her nuptials, "any other personal information is not relevant to my qualifications and service."

Perhaps she has good reason. Smith-Ribner's husband, Paul Ribner, is the former Philly judge who handled the controversial pretrial proceedings against Mumia Abu-Jamal. He also represented Judge Doris in a whiplash claim, where a jury awarded her just $10,000 after she spurned a $35,000 defense offer. Maybe she should sue him for malpractice.

Of course, the PBA endorses her, as they do with every retention candidate.

A Judicial Voice for Reform

More than any other judge, Smith-Ribner is a voice for reform. She is precisely the kind of judge we need on an appellate court.

Government accountability. - When the PHEEA withheld information on its spending for retreats, Smith-Ribner ordered them to disclose their spending. "The Right-to-Know Law favors public access regarding any expenditure of public funds." The ripples from that important decision, which demanded government accountability, are still being felt.

Racial equality. In an extensive review of Philadelphia's troubled public schools, Smith-Ribner found 134 segregated schools, with 90 percent or more African American or Latino students, serving the majority of Philadelphia's students. She demanded improvements in the substandard quality of education at what she labeled "racially isolated minority schools."

Campaign finance limits. Smith-Ribner Court is also the judge who upheld Philly's campaign-finance limits. In her opinion, she applauds this local law as an attempt "to change the political culture."

Condemns Abuse of Eminent Domain. Many municipalities, with a little help from the U.S. Supreme Court, have participated in "revitalization" and other goofy projects that actually end up condemning private property for private use. I can imagine someone insensitively justifying the damage inflicted as a "growing pain." In fact, Pennsylvania only gets a B- from Castle Coalition for its track record. Not Judge Smith-Ribner. In one of her opinions, she rejects such a public taking. "In short, nothing in the Constitution authorizes a taking of private property for a private use."

Supports Voting Rights Activists. Judge Smith-Ribner is the jurist who penned the opinion allowing voter rights activists, including our very own Dr. Alan Brau, to challenge the use of electronic vote-counting machines that leave no paper trail. Her opinion means voters have a state constitutional right to reliable and secure voting systems, and can challenge the use of electronic voting machines “that provide no way for Electors to know whether their votes will be recognized.” You have a right to know your vote counts.

Conclusion

Despite her individual desire for privacy, Smith-Ribner has been a judicial voice for state reform. She promotes open records, detests de facto racial segregation, refuses to go along with municipalities that abuse condemnation powers, upholds campaign finance limits and believes you have a right to know that your vote counts. It's ironic that those who promote much-needed state government reform, would advocate her ouster.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed reading your commentaries on the various judges that are up for retention. For the most part I agree with you and I will vote yes for all of them except Melvin. One major contributing factor in so many affirmatives is that I have no confidence at all in who Rendell would choose to fill any position, let alone judges.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I'm glad you found the appellate profiles useful. I appreciate that you took the time to find them

Sheldon said...

11/30/09 Doris Smith-Ribner is running for U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania. You can visit her website at www.smithribnerforussenate.com and make a contribution, sign-up to volunteer, and sign up for the campaign mailing list. To host fundraisers and help to plan for the petition drive that begins in February 2010, you can contact the campaign at 1-877-238-2010 (toll-free) or email the campaign at info@smithribnerforussenate.com.

Anonymous said...

In the interest of party unity, Doris Smith-Ribner has decided to run for Pennsylvania Lt. Governor, not U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania. You can visit her website at www.smithribnerforussenate.com and make a contribution, sign-up to volunteer, and sign up for the campaign mailing list. To host fundraisers and help to plan for the petition drive that begins in February 2010, you can contact the campaign at 1-877-238-2010 (toll-free) or email the campaign at info@smithribnerforussenate.com