Friday, September 13, 2013

Bethlehem Township May Lose District Judge

District Judge Barner's Courtroom at the Trolley Station
Magisterial district judges are the frontline of Pennsylvania's judicial system. Though sometimes called the minor judiciary, they handle the majority of cases considered, from neighbor squabbles to a disputed parking ticket. Former Chief Justice Ralph Cappy called them "the bulwark between the police and rights of citizens." But in an effort to stretch the tax dollar, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has embarked on an ambitious plan to reduce judicial costs. Part of that is reducing the number of magisterial districts statewide by ten percent. But will this reduction serve the public or elected officials? That's the question presented by two realignment plans in Northampton County, under which one of fifteen magisterial districts is being eliminated.

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

32 comments:

Kevin Cerino said...

Magisterial Districts should be drawn based on the needs of those who use the court system, not on the needs of two people. What if Marakovits or Hawke croaks before 2017? Or if the voters send them packing in the next election?

Anonymous said...

So in other words, Bernie, our mini judges are no different than our state legislators - willing to gerrymander districts in order to preserve their own jobs. The result being that the residents and voters in Bethlehem Township will need to travel farther to obtain justice.

Let us know more about this. Who are the ringleaders. I live in Bethlehem Township and WILL run against an incumbent if this comes to fruition.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The ringleaders would be the sitting district judges who do not want to district themselves out of a job.

Anonymous said...

This is absolutely bull. It also forces 1/2 of Hanover Township to take their matters to the DJ in Northampton. DJ Narlesky's office is in Hanover and the CRPD will be forced to go to Northampton on their cases. Police patrol time will be hurt.

Time to turn up the heat on this mess.

Anonymous said...

Bethlehem Township planning, isn't that an oxymoron?

Lighthouse said...

The fact that Judge Barner's current district, which includes both Bethlehem and Lower Naz Townships, is proposed to be reduced to just Bethlehem Township based on the high volume of cases, should by itself shoot down this proposal by Judge Hawke. Good and bad, I've always heard mixed comments about him in his own district where I understand he had been a police officer prior. Apparently he is afraid to run against the Marakovits name in Northampton.

The Magesterial Dist Courts are the busiest level in our Unified Judicial System. Judge Barner's office is particularly busy. Bethlehem Township itself is the third largest municipality in Northampton County. If the court approves this plan to force police to hall folks up to Northampton or Nazareth, as well as for residents, it would be an injustice of the justice system--all so Hawke can keep his second career in beautiful rural Lehigh Twp? I would hope that Honorable Judge McFadden, and DA Morganelli would actively oppose such a proposal. Afterall, they too will have to face the voters.

Anonymous said...

This can only work if the County Judges agree. Don't blame the DM's if this goofy plan goes through, blame the President Judge. At the end of the day, they will make the call.

Anonymous said...

This plan is an abortion!

The DJ needs to be in Bethlehem Township! It is a growing community and has more population that up North. It also neighbors Bethlehem and Easton two small cities that have more people and more crime.

When the new HS building was at the inception there was talk about moving the DJ into the building. Good thing that did not happen, but the DJ should be near the new proposed community.

These DJs that are whining should be voted out and the area up north needs and should be consolidated.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Don't blame the DM's if this goofy plan goes through, blame the President Judge. At the end of the day, they will make the call."

You are incorrect.The PJ does NOT support this plan, but it is not his call. Stay tuned.

Anonymous said...

Here it goes...

The Hawke and Markavoits complained to the PJ...he said if the majority of the MDJ's want just Barner's court to go they would have to vote and present it to him then he would re-present it to the State Supreme Court.

The MDJ's recently took a vote and the majority said Barner's court should go.

Sooooo....last I heard the proposal was sent to the powers that be but in reality the worthless court of Northampton needs to go!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

"The Hawke and Markavoits complained to the PJ...he said if the majority of the MDJ's want just Barner's court to go they would have to vote and present it to him then he would re-present it to the State Supreme Court."

Actually, their complaint was higher. I will have more about this attempted gerrymander.

Peter J. Cochran said...

Bernie,Don't place blame on the President Judge as suggested by an anon poster .This state itself has to get leaner and things will happen even at PennDot! Ms. A.Griffo ESQ.wish her well great person ,but she is in for a work load and will be in office shortly. Her district will most likely get cut off at about 7th street because of the volume. For the record-- I have retired and my Deputy Constable N.Ramos-Martinez has been appointed to my vacancy by the President Judge. He is a smart, capable young man and will serve the court system well with the utmost integrity,even a good shooter .But,Change is coming in two years or so here in Northampton County,like it or not.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The PJ is in no way at fault here, as will be apparent soon. This is the work of 8 district judges, 6 of whom were basically accommodating the wishes of Hawke and marakovits.

Peter J.Cochran said...

right!locally .

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with appointing an independent panel to set up and organize the new magisterial districts? They should be set up according to work load. The type of cases that come before a magistrate must also be taken into consideration. The court appointee that handles this matter is a "waste". She does not have a clue on how to organize the districts and is overpaid. I am not talking about Jill Cicero.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Such a committee was in fact set up. It included Judge Dally, Judge Koury and District Judge Elwell. They came up with the plan ultimately approved by the Supreme Court after public review, but District Judges have come up with another plan to preserve their jobs.

Also, if you want to call someone who is not an elected official or even some high official a waste, you better identify yourself or I will delete you for your unnecessary cheap shots. These people don't deserve that kind of treatment from people who are too afraid to say who they are.

Anonymous said...

Bernie - You are right the PJ has nothing to do with this. I really don't think the state will go back on it's original plan to do away with Marinkovit's court anyway.

Obviously these two MDJ's are not thinking in terms of what is best for the county. You know what? This is politics....run for the spot and the best person will win.

Also most people (voters) don't even know that they aren't voting for the REAL Marinkovits as in Joan Marinkovits, her last name is almost identical but I think has an "A" in it somewhere.

Funny story when Joan Marinkovits retired she was having people approach her and say "He Joanie, I voted for you!" LOL Her reply was..you didn't vote for me.

BTW I have NOTHING against Marakovits, Hawke or ANY of these Judges.

The reorganization of these courts should be for their workload and usefulness and not to appease a few.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Thank you for your comment. On Monday, I will have plenty more to say. For now, you are right. Baratta spoke against this plan, but forwarded it to the Supreme Court so they could decide for themselves if it is better than the one already approved. It all boils down to whether the realignment is supposed to serve the public or the interests of individual Distict Judges. If it is the former, the plan worked on by Judges Koury, Dally and the late, great gay Elwell will stand.

Anonymous said...

Bethlehem Township again feels its entitled to all the premium services that government provides. It has to have the best of everything. God forbid they have to drive a little bit for an arraignment or a property dispute between neighbors. Heaven forbid!! How about the Northampton, North Catty and Lehigh Cops that have to drive ALL THE WAY down to Bethlehem Township for the DUI Center!! There has to be some give and take to keep costs down. Perhaps the Bethlehem Townshipites need to give a bit.

Bernie O'Hare said...

You are comparing apples and oranges. There are not 15 DUI Centers. Those are established by the DA. My guess is that the low caseload does not justify a DUI center in the northwestern tier.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,
Do u know about east penn school district picking up catholic school kids at st Anne's for over an hour late? Kids were in turmoil and disarray. First student Trans is blaing east penn school district even though buses wee running for 3 weeks. Story reported to mcall and Wfmz as well.
T Rutch

Bernie O'Hare said...

Your comment is both OT and unclear. Send me an email at BOHare5948@aol.com

Anonymous said...

Bernie
What an important news bulletin!
15 miles away. How much gas. What about children and baby sitters and loss of wage due to being away from work for hours and hours.
Traveling during rush hour through Nazareth and some of these other communities is very difficult and time consuming. The money being saved by some will harm many.

Anonymous said...

The real story here is Northampton County losing a MDJ . Not Bethlehem township. It is a state mandate that we lose one. It was never taken into account that Northampton County is growing and other counties are losing population.

The smallest office is in WInd Gap. They could easily close that and split it between Bangor and Nazareth. Splitting off Barners office is an effieciency of attrition.

No one is gerrymandering, That was done in the orignal plan and this idea is trying to corect that mess they created

It is in, reality a couple of police chiefs and some zoning people who are screaming NO. It is not their call becasue their input is parochial and biased. It is the Supreme Courts decision. period.

Anonymous said...

Who created this "mess" as you say?
Of all these communities, isn't B.T. the fastest and largest growing residential and commercial of all?

Bernie O'Hare said...

"No one is gerrymandering, That was done in the orignal plan and this idea is trying to corect that mess they created"

Do you know hoew to read? The original plan is the one that consolidates Hawke and marakovits..

Anonymous said...

Who created this "mess" as you say?
Of all these communities, isn't B.T. the fastest and largest growing residential and commercial of all?

Bernie O'Hare said...

The purpose of the magisterial realignment is to ensure that judicial services are delivered as evenly as possible, but under your logic, a township and its citizenry would be penalized bc they are growing too fast. Under your bizarre thinking, judicial services would be centralized in Chapman Borough.

Anonymous said...

“It is in, reality a couple of police chiefs and some zoning people who are screaming NO. It is not their call because their input is parochial and biased. It is the Supreme Courts decision. period.” 6:17 AM

The Police Chiefs and the affected Municipal officials have every right to speak to this. Hawke and Marakovits want to move the Judicial Districts away from the population centers just so they can save their jobs.

Anyone with half a brain can see what’s going on here. This is Judicial District Gerrymandering AND for the worst possible reason – POLITICS – they are trying to save their jobs at the expense of everyone else – the Public, Police, Lawyers and Municipal officials who do business in these courts.

One Judicial District has to go and the previously approved plan is the best plan to accomplish that. It will defies logic and common sense to go with the Hawke and Marakovits Plan.

Peter J.Cochran said...

Anon 6;17 got it correct as we know it now and well said. Great day ,good day to be alive -going for another walk. We all mis J.Elwell ,she was great to work for. I still can't get over her untimely departure ,bless her.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Peter, It is Elwell who proposed the plan to which DJs now object.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Judge Baratta.