|District Judge Barner's Courtroom at the Trolley Station|
In June, the state Supreme Court adopted a plan endorsed by then President Judge F.P. Kimberly McFadden that consolidated two seats in the lonely northwestern corner of Northampton County. The seats held by District Judges Diane Marakovits (Northampton, N. Catty and Allen) and Robert Hawke (Lehigh, Moore, Chapman, Walnutport) were combined. But this would also force Judges Marakovits and Hawke, whose terms expire in 2015, to run against each other.
Out of what really can only be described as a sense of self-preservation, the District Judges have submitted a new realignment plan, which has been forwarded to the State Supreme Court by President Judge Stephen Baratta. This one eliminates District Judge Joseph Barner's seat in Bethlehem Township. You see, when his term expires in 2017, he's retiring. That way nobody has to run against anyone and everybody's happy.
Except maybe Bethlehem Township, where his seat is located.
Under this amended plan, Bethlehem Township's 23,730 people would be split up between two different magisterial districts. Some would have their cases heard by District Judge John Capobianco, in nearby Nazareth. But the rest, including police officers, would have to travel to Northampton, which is 15 miles away.
District Judge James Narlesky, whose courtroom is located in Hanover Township, would no longer be a convenient source of justice some of the residents in that Township. They, along with the Colonial Regional Police, will be switched to Northampton, which is 11 miles away.
Residents of Bath, currently served in nearby Nazareth by District Judge Capobianco, would now travel to District Judge Robert Hawke's courtroom in Lehigh Township, which is 14.4 miles away.
A member of the committee behind the original proposal, who asked to remain anonymous, is upset by this latest proposal. "Our job is to serve the public, not elected officials," he said. "You can't push people and police out to the hinterlands of Northampton County."
"We can't afford that," Bethlehem Township Planning Chairman Lee Snover said of the elimination of a magisterial district in Bethlehem Township. She should know. Her Board, along with the Board of Commissioners, recently approved a 827-unit neighborhood village in the middle of the Township. "We're a huge district and still growing."
Attempts to contact District Judge Robert Hawke, the driving force behind this proposed realignment, have been unsuccessful. Acting Court Administrator Jill Cicero confirms that the matter is currently being considered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
You can see the District Judge Gerrymander here.
Updated 7:43 PM