Friday, March 23, 2007

Three Reasons to Boot Judge Baratta

"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown!"

Sixty-two state and local judges must ask voters to keep them on their thrones for another decade this November. Judges are too important to stand for election. That's supposed to be too political. We simply retain them.

One judge seeking retention is Northampton County's very own Steven Baratta. He's a beneficiary of the midnight payraise enacted by our state legislature, and is raking in nearly $150,000 a year. He appeared on a radio show a few months ago, saying he wished he could take you all on a tour of his new Taj Mahal. Right. Stop by his office sometime and watch what happens. Baratta should be booted. Here's why.

1. Our judges think they're aristocrats. This is what I asked Baratta a few weeks ago. Hey Steve, where were you when county employees were getting sick? Did you speak up when over 100 positions were eliminated to help pay for your over budget Taj Mahal? Where were you when your $15 thousand judicial lunch table had to be sawed in half just to get it in your new building? Where were you when judges decided that all members of the public had to be searched when they entered your new building, even if their business took them nowhere near a courtroom? When did you announce that you would refuse the new pay raise? How could you take a nickel when the people who work under you have seen nothing for nearly four years? Why couldn't you open your mouth about any of the judicial excesses? These are just a few questions Baratta should answer if he expects to remain on the bench. I asked them before, way back in November. His silence is deafening. It's common knowledge Baratta wants to be our next president judge. That's why answers to these administrative questions are important.

2. Our judges promote class distinctions. On Wednesday, while Baratta was off doing judgely things, his court administrator was demanding that a council committee approve a 21% payraise for our minijudges, the law clerks. It didn't matter that court-related employees are only getting 3-4% raises, something pointed out by County executive Stoffa. Or that the residual unit, which serves some judicial functions, doesn't even have a contract. Both Stoffa and Councilman John Cusick think this will hurt morale. Stoffa asked the judges to wait until he finishes a job classification study, but they refuse. They don't give a damn what impact it has on morale. After all, they're judges. The rest of us can eat crab cakes. Amazingly, council will roll over for them. They always do, and it's disgraceful. People have to send a message they will no longer tolerate this judicial arrogance.

3. Baratta snubs Democracy Rising Pa. Democracy Rising PA is a grassroots movement working for integrity, value, transparency, and citizen confidence in government. It is one of nine similar groups that prepared the Roadmap to Reform. It recently prepared and forwarded a candidate questionnaire for Judge Baratta, and asked him to return it by March 6. Barrata thumbed his nose at them. He didn't even have the courtesy to respond.

I think it's time to bring our judiciary back down to earth. They best way to do that is by booting a few of them.


Anonymous said...

you seem to be heaping the sins of the father (the president judge, not reginald) on the son, don't you?

Bernie O'Hare said...

To some extent. But thumbing his nose at Democracy Rising Pa is entirely Judge Baratta. Misleading the public on a radio show about his wonderful castle while employees drop like flies? That's entirely Baratta. And frankly, I don't know how he can sit in his private dining room when he knows rank and file employees are eating in hallways. He has not opened his mouth to object to all the isolation tactics being foisted on the judges. Time to send them a message. In fact, I'm considering getting a committee together to take this to the next level. Baratta will have all these lawyers (who practice in front of him and are looking at their bottom line) say how wonderful he is, but I'll grab some of the rank and file he's been shitting on. I'm tired of this crap from our judges. And they ignore complaints instead of answering them. So perhaps it's time to ignore him.

Anonymous said...

I would like to remind you that it has been the social progressives, most of them in your selected party, who have deified the judges in this nation at all levels. That said, I would tell you that I agree with you on most of what you stated. I beleive that we should reduce their term and make the race for judge much more competitive by removing the gag rule. Let's find out what their platform is before we pull the lever.I will tell you that I like Baratta based on what I read of his decisions. He seems to be one of the few judges who will put the bad guys away for a long time particularly the preverts in our community.

Unknown said...


In terms of judicial style, Baratta is a tough guy, as are many other local judges, like Paula Roscioli.

I also like your idea to get rid of the gag rule. We're basically voting on what law degree looks better currently. It's a sham. However, I don't think you're right when you say the "social progressives" have done this to the judiciary. Any law professor worth their salt will call Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas activist judges, just of the conservative nature. Judges in general have done themselves wrong.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 9:29,

Even with the gag rule, Baratta could answer a lot of questions, including the ones being posed by DemocracyRisingPa. Their questions were vetteed by a law professer at Duquesne. Baratta has chosen to ignore them.

The big movement right now is to take this decision away from the people. Judges are too important to be elected, the argument goes. So there's a lot of sentiment for having these guys appointed, which simply removes politics to another level, making some animals more equal than others. I'd agree w/ your assessmnet that they should be elected, not retained. I like the idea of shorter terms, especially now that they are being treated like gods on a local level. They're too powerful, and start running the county. That must stop. They need to tell us where they stand on issues.

A few years ago, I went to a Supreme Court oral argument about the bond issue. I got right in. No metal detectors. No searches. No problem for the judges. But these locals are so damned paranoid they even have lawyers searched. And in NC, the judgesd just issued a court order governing searches when it should be addressd by ordinance after hearing from the public.

I think you have a valid criticism about social progressives like myself being responsible for deifying judges. We started it. And when conservatives got the majority, they compounded the sin.

Personally, I have no animosity towards Baratta. I believe he simply must pay a price for being unresponsive. Or perhaps he should just start being responsive and start acting like a human being.

Anonymous said...

I think we need to evolve to the "Judge Dredd" system! Jaywalking? 3 year minimum!
Murder? death Penalty! Unless of course, you have enough money and the right name.

Anonymous said...

Rising Sun and Bernie
I want you to name one thing done by conservative judges comparable to Roe v. Wade. We all know that the secular progressives in this nation cannot get their social issues passed through the legistative process so they take it to the courts. Likewise we now see that they cannot get the issues on the war passed without bribing their fellows in the House resulting in an additional 20 billion dollars attached to a supplemental bill. And let me note that I am not real thrilled with the $2.9 trillion dollar budget. No the secular progressives remind me of Satan chasing an elderly soul--Satan is in a hurry because he knows he is going to lose the soul. As for Ms.Roscioli, she ain't floating my boat with the penalities she hands out and neither is Beltrami.
We need four year terms for judges, no gag rule, better publication of all decisions, and an election not retention system

Bernie O'Hare said...

I want you to name one thing done by conservative judges comparable to Roe v. Wade.
OK. How about Bush v. Gore?

Do you honestly believe only liberals have activists judges? We may have started it, but Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas have taken things to whole new level. These are two conservative judicial activists who will try their best to change well-settled law.

But my objection to Baratta has nothing to do with his politics. It has everything to do with the factthat our judges have become too uppity, too high class, too isolated. They need to be brought down to reality.

Anonymous said...

Hey Folks... It's called "Selective Favoritism".
A 21 % pay raise for the law clerks, a 40 % pay raise for County Council's staff...hmmmm does anyone else out there smell a rotting fish???

Can you blame county employees for a severe drop in morale? They are way below what their counter parts in other county's are making. Some of them haven't seen a pay raise in 4 years, contracts are stalled and the circus just keeps going on and on...

Respect and fairness... is that too much to ask?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 9:25, You don't ask for respect and fairness. You DEMAND it. And if they don't give it to you, you TAKE it.

Now I want you to know there were 4 council members at that meeting. Aside from Stoffa, the only one raising respect and fairness was Cusick. Angle the taxpayer hero, was bending over for the judges. he was joined by Diane Neiper and Ann McHale.

You want to send council a message? Go to the next council meeting and tell them this is not respect or fairness. Bring a few county workers with you. Make wahtever union you have do its job and demand they send someone, too.

LVDem said...

Name on case that has the scale of Roe v Wade... Bernie listed bush v Gore...

I'm going historical on this one: how about seperate but equal. Was that the fault of social progressives? And the decision to over turn all of those new deal programs in the 1930's? Social progressives? The biggest obsticle to the Progressive Movement of the early 20th century was hard right wing judges who imposed their world views on the rest of society.

But for those people who think that Social Security, Medicare and the EPA are terrible ideas forget the role that the radical right wing judges have played on those program. I disagree with Bernie on the matter of who started it. I think it started with the judges who shot down many of the Progressive Movements reforms. That was 50 years before Roe v Wade.

Anonymous said...

If you shorten terms for judges and do away with retention elections, you will lose the branch of government that keeps the (out of control) legislative and executive branches in check. Courts might then make political decisions rather than uphold the constitution and the law. A democratic form of government cannot work without an independent judiciary that can make the unpopular decisions that uphold the constitution and the law without having to worry about whether they're going to get voted out of office for doing so. Be careful what you wish for. You might not like court decisions based upon popular opinion, especially if your on the opposite side of that opinion and your constitutional rights are being trampled on in the process.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Five years ago, you could sign my name to that argument. It's how I felt. But in that time, I've noticed a great change among our common pleas judges. They should be independent, but not above the law. And they must remember where they come from. They don't.

Anonymous said...

Then make reforms designed to solve those local problems rather than redesign democracy itself. I don't want to live in a police state run by a legislative or executive branch that makes all its decisions based upon getting re-elected, regardless of whether those decisions conform to the law or the constitution.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 9:58, I'll consider what you said. An independent judiciary is very important. You're right about that. Let me think about it.

House of Crayons said...

Oh my GOD!

Can you imagine the damage that judges beholden to the popular vote could do.

The flavor of the day would rule.

Dislike Mexicans... Judges rule to violate probable cause and search and siezure. Get too tan, get detained.

Want to unionize... Does your company contribute copiusly to campaigns? If yes, expect lots of hardtime for loitering.

Gay marriage, integration, prosecute a pediphile priest... Fugedtaboudit!

your neighbor

Bernie O'Hare said...

If truth be told, most judges still play to the crowd. Don't kid yourself.

What concerns me more than anything isd the increasingly aristoratic attitude being assumed by even our lowest level judges. They are too isolated. It's a problem. It needs to be addressed. They need to be independent but need to remember where they come from.

This was never a problem in Northampton County. I though its bench was the finest in the state because its judges showed respect for everyone who came before them, rich or poor, well connected or not. Sadly, that has changed. And when judges start losing their respect for people, bad things happen.

Anonymous said...

Barratta is rotten to the core.riddle me this
domestic relations
state prison/over 7 yrs

Anonymous said...

What a ridiculous rant. Your "three reasons to boot judge Baratta" have nothing at all to do with his performance on the bench. Firstly, where was Judge Baratta when county employees had itchy eyes? I would assume he was working; what would you have him do, run down with saline solution and a washcloth for them? When did he announce that he would refuse the pay raise? This is another stupid question since it was already decided in court that rejecting the pay hike would "violate the rule of law."
2. "Our judges promote class distinctions." Please, who are you, Antonio Gramsci? I wasn't aware that judge Baratta initiated the pay raise proposal. More importantly, I certainly can't imagine that you would expect the judges to publicly oppose a raise for the very people they depend on most. Your article is supposed to be about judge Baratta, and yet all you write about is "them". Finally, since when is the law clerk's $40,000 salary something to be envious of? They spent 7 years of their life in school to get a law degree and most have loans they will be paying off for the next thirty years. But you are right Comrade, down with the Bourgeoisie!
3. Who did respond to the questionnaire? While there is some disagreement over whether candidates for judicial election may be prohibited from announcing their views on disputed legal and political issues, it would certainly not be professional conduct for judges to answer questionnaires distributed by irrelevant fringe organizations like Democracy Rising, or for that matter, poorly reasoned blogs like Lehigh Valley Ramblings. Not everyone feels the need to criticize fellow colleagues, Bernie. While I find your article and your anger misplaced, I find your blog to be aptly titled....

Bernie O'Hare said...

Hey Anon!

It's too bad that your comment comes one month after this posted. Not many people will see it, and you make some good points. Perhaps you're right. But I think the decision to retain a judge can extend beyond what happens on the bench. Judges have an administrative, as well as judicial, role. My objection to NC judges is their performance in an administrative capacity. I also think they've grown too powerful.

1) Baratta is one of the boys in black who appeared en masse in front of council when someone dared suggest shaving a few nickels off that project. He is the one who told a radio audience he'd like to take them on a tour. So let him speak up for the employees when the judges' production starts making people sick. I think that's fair. They already think they run the courthouse anyway. So since they already try to make all the decisions, they should speak up for the employees.

2) Our judges Do promote class distinctions. Baratta is one of those doing so. My objection to Baratta is not personal. He's standing for retention, so I say he should be booted. They're a bunch of isolated bastards with their own little dining room, private exits, separate floor, private potties. etc., Come on! It's ridiculous. It doesn't matter whether baratta initiated the payraise. He is one of the fellows silently sitting by while the dirty work is done. The way things look, we never really know who initiates what. The court admin will just come in with the judges' latest edict. It's time they're brought down to earth.

3) Democracy Rising, PA is hardly what I would call an "irrelevant fringe" group. It's actually a coalition of different groups and has had a dramatic impact on reform in state government. Your slur at me is one thing, but ytou're being unfair to Democracy Rising. It's a grassroots group. You're letting your class snobbery pollute your ability to look at that group objectively.

I appreciate your comments. They make me realize I have to talk about this more.

Anonymous said...

wooooo hoooooo