Thursday, January 16, 2014

Will Sletvold Be Confirmed?

In a well-written editorial, The Express Times has come down against confirming Bob Sletvold as Northampton County's Public Defender. That's because his wife, recently elected Judge, will be unable to hear any cases in which any public defender represents the Defendant. That means she will be entertaining very few criminal and juvenile matters, which in turn will require other judges to pick up the slack. It also means that, even as a Motions Judge, she will be unable to hear certain matters and everyone will have to wait for another judge. If they have to wait days or weeks, I foresee public safety problems.

In addition to this editorial, there are two news accounts about this issue from The Morning Call and Express Times. Here's how things look.

Council President Peg Ferraro, VP Glenn Geissinger and Mat Benol, all of them Republicans, support the nomination. Their argument appears to be that that the President Judge and District Attorney are both "OK" with it. But Judge Baratta certainly does not sound as though he's happy at all or "OK" with this situation. It is Judge Baratta who said that Judge Sletvold will be unable to hear any case involving anyone in the Public Defender's Office. Before he noted the appearance of impropriety, Sletvold had argued that that the disqualification would apply only to him.

Judge Baratta stated that Judge Sletvold is "not going to get to experience criminal work like all of our judges do ... . She won't have a full criminal caseload."

"It puts me in an awkward situation," he is quoted as saying. "I don't want to criticize anybody."

This is no ringing endorsement. These are the words of a judge who has serious concerns about this appointment, but who does not want to flex his judicial muscles.

Now it could be that a majority of judges are fine with this appointment, but they speak on these issues through the President Judge. He is far from "OK" with it. Claiming that the Courts "don't have an issue with it," as Executive John Brown has said, is inaccurate.

Ken Kraft, Bob Werner and Scott Parsons, all of them Democrats, are opposed. Parsons said this appointment fails the smell test. "[T]o me, this kind of stinks."

This leaves two Republicans, Hayden Phillips and Seth Vaughn, as well as Democrat Lamont McClure.

McClure said he's "on the fence." I could see him voting to confirm. As a lawyer who undoubtedly will be in front of Judge Sletvold, he's in a tight spot. Although he's given no blessing, Judge Baratta is reluctant to say what he really thinks. He may feel that would be an improper exercise of judicial authority.

Phillips has stated he has "reservations," and will undoubtedly be under immense pressure to confirm.

Nothing at all has been heard from Seth Vaughn.

To me, this is a disaster waiting to happen. I understand that, to some, this will be viewed as an early test of party unity for Brown. But to me, this is a disaster waiting to happen. Eventually, something will be delayed because a judge is unavailable, and someone will get hurt.

Does anyone honestly think Jennifer Sletvold would be elected Judge if people knew her husband would be named Public Defender?

Brown should pull this nomination. But if he is too stubborn to do so, his own party should tell him No. This is bad government.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Stop covering the courts ass O'Hare. Everyone knows the court is the most political body in the county. They love to play the pious above the fray group.

Both the President Judge and the Da have said fine, we can work with it. Why must county council be the ones to carry out the trash. No doubt after the vote the charge will be it was partisan politics by the Dem's.
They should give everyone what they all claim is '"OK".

County Council is always put in the position of doing what should be done by others.

I say vote for him. He is the pick of the executive and he is qaulifi8led. The president Judge has said he can work with it and so has the DA.

County Council should get a bowl of water and do a Pontius Pilate.

Vote yea and give the entire bundle to the courts were it belongs.

Anonymous said...

Agreed!

Anonymous said...

Let it happen

If it creates a problem, then, that is why we have elections. I'll be the first to circulate the recall petition.

Clinton Oxford said...

Overheard in the Bullpen (awaiting sentencing): I hope my lawyer's boss fucked the Judge really good last night.

There is no money that changes hands to retain Judicial Advocacy in the Public Defender's Office, for a Defendant. There is no financial incentive to be improper between a P.D. & a Judge.
The only impropriety that can manifest, is a personal vendetta between the lawyer & the Judge(regarding the Defendant),
which is a lack of moral character for these Practitioner's of Law, & thus, improper.
Judge Barata seems to have skeleton's in his closet for sentencing clients that retained him as a private attorney. I believe that was reported on this blog.
Judge Zito sentenced his ex-wife's lover to State prison. Wasn't that improper, regardless of the facts and circumstances of the case?

Justice in Northampton County is a pantomime of the Pennsyltucky Keystone Cops.

Anonymous said...

That editorial was as well written as the circular logic bullshit you bang out regularly. They acknowledge the president judge and DA are OK with the appointment. They, with their law degrees obtained at third rate j-schools, suggest they know better than the county's top legal officials. And so do you, a discredited lawyer who chose the wrong team and is very upset about a new lack of access. It seeps from every post-election post.

Anonymous said...

This appointment was not well thought out by the new exec. A straight party line vote would set a bad tone. Phillips or Vaughn need to stand up and vote no.

BTW what about the rest of the cabinet appointments?

Mr. T said...

Clinton say hi to Jim Gregory for us here in Blogoland and maybe keister in a samsung galaxy so that we can stay better connected!

Bernie O'Hare said...

"They acknowledge the president judge and DA are OK with the appointment."

Judge Baratta has by no means said he is OK with this. When you insist on saying that, you are being dishonest. When you are dishonest in government, bad things eventually happen.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"I'll be the first to circulate the recall petition."

Under the state constitution,you can't recall a judge or the exec.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Both the President Judge and the Da have said fine, we can work with it. "

Another dishonest argument from a partisan.

Anonymous said...

I can't wait until next Thursday night. It will show the county that they made a good choice with council new picks or they made a grave mistake. Only time will tell.

Anonymous said...

"I'll be the first to circulate the recall petition."

"Under the state constitution,you can't recall a judge or the exec."

Our home rule charter permits recall of elected officials. I know that conflicts with the state constitution, but I would be willing to try to remove the county exec and test the validity of the home rule charter if this political patronage caused an upset to our court system. If the recall provision were ruled unconstitutional, then why have a home rule charter. Bring back the row offices and the three member commissioner board.

Anonymous said...

The newspapers have reported that the President Judge and the DA have passed on this issue. Either the papers lie or the officials lie. Or both?

Bernie O'Hare said...

It has been tried in another home rule jurisdiction and was determined to be unconstitutional. You can't do it. Sorry.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I can do it, and if it fails it justifies eliminating the charter. One of the selling points of the charter was the recall provision. Absent that right, which was an advantage of the charter, calls to question the entire charter. If we cannot recall, then we should eliminate the charter. Who knows, a different legal challenge, may bring a different opinion from the State Supremes.

Bernie O'Hare said...

You can't do it under the County Code either.

Anonymous said...

Section 1101 of the County Home Rule Charter- The power of recall shall extend only to the offices of county executive, members of county council, controller and District Attorney. The power shall not extend during the first year or the last year of the term of office.

Simple, place the question on the ballot. The question is challenged by you and others. The case goes to the state supreme court. The court rules against the question. That is to be expected. Based on prior rulings in townships.

Then, a request is made of the court to set aside the entire charter-that is, require the voters to reaffirm the charter without the recall provision. Reason: The charter provided for a concentration of power in a single elected official, the county executive. When that power was concentrated, a check and balance to that power was established to permit recall of that elected official.

If the court removes the recall provision, then the voters must reaffirm the concentration of power in the executive without the benefit of recall. Perhaps the voters may want to limit the term to less than four years.

If the voters do not reaffirm the charter, then the commissioner board is reinstituted. I believe I am on solid ground on this because of the elimination of the commissioners and the creation of a single executive with vast powers. Had the charter continued the commissioners with the same powers, this argument would be moot. As was the case in the township question that was placed before the court.

Anonymous said...

"Both the President Judge and the Da have said fine, we can work with it. "

Bullshit! Then let them show up at the meeting an publically make clear that which you infer!

Otherwise nothing o see and rime to move on!

Anonymous said...

Council should approve the appointment and let the courts (who have no balls on this matter) live with the mess they refuse to address.
That being said, How much of a pig can the Sletvolds be? Both of these attorneys sucking off the public teat to the tune of more than 200,000 dollars annually. Bend over taxpayers. You get what you vote for.

Anonymous said...

Conflict counsel... Problem solved, can we move on now please.

Calling this a conflict is an exaggeration in the first place. Is someone arguing that the conflict exists in that defendants will get lighter sentences in front of sletvold or the benefit of the doubt. I thought defendants were to be afforded the benefit of the doubt anyways.

Ok, if they were divorced, then there would be a conflict but again, someone please explain where the conflict exists and why judge sletvold should not be hearing criminal cases.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The question whether this is a conflict has already been answered in the affirmative. President Judge Baratta has already ruled that it creates an appearance of impropriety, and that Judge Sletvold can hear no case involving her husband or any member of Bob's staff. So if you feel Judge Baratta is wrong, you need to run for Judge and then run for PJ.

If you have problems grasping why it is a conflict of interest for a lawyer to appear in front of his wife, then I think you're going to lose your judicial race.

Incidentally, Sletvold already is conflicts counsel.

Anonymous said...

Bernie there are many reasons why this is wrong: number 1 it is bad government, doesn`t need to be. Number two, both the President Judge and the District Attorney should come out publicly and denounce this. Why don`t they? Finally Brown is picking a fight where he doesn`t win even if approved. Why pick a fight here? It simply sets up stakes for the battle ground to follow. DUMB DUMB DUMB

Bernie O'Hare said...

The DA has stated that it has no direct impact on him, so he's Switzerland. The PJ, I believe, feels it would be an inappropriate invasion into the exec and legislative branches to express his concerns. But he has all but said this is a bad idea, to anyone willing to read what he said.