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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Did Superior Court Judge Stevens Cross the Line?

When I told you about Superior Court Judge Corry Stevens on Monday, I mentioned that he is unafraid to voice opinions, even on hot-button, political issues. That certainly makes him different from most judges. He does have one powerful ally, Supreme Court Justice Max Baer. "I think you have a right to know what I feel, what I believe in, who I am."

Yesterday, Stevens joined forced with other foes of illegal immigration, including our very own John Morganelli. They want new state laws or something. Needless to say, lots of folks are outraged that a judge would dare state his views.

Capitol Ideas' John Micek tells us Stevens may have gone too far. "Once legal ethicists and others picked their jaws up off the floor, they said Stevens, 60, probably went sailing over the line with his public comments."

But did he?

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a judicial candidate has a first amendment right to speak out on issues that might come before the court. Pennsylvania thereafter relaxed judicial canons, allowing candidates to “announce” views on disputed legal or political issues. It still prohibits statements that “commit or appear to commit the candidate with respect to cases, controversies or issues that are likely to come before the court.”

Even in this watered down version, this canon has been enjoined by a federal district court. It is unenforceable.

That's why Stevens can speak, and we are the beneficiaries. Tim Potts at Democracy Rising has stated this injunction "means [judges] will be able to respond to a lot more issues than in the past. As long as we're going to have elections, they ought to be meaningful. Public confidence in the courts is [already] abysmally low."

Philadelphia lawyer Robert Nix, who just happens to chair the state Republican Hispanic Coalition, is among those outraged, and he intends to file a complaint with the Judicial Conduct Board.

Good luck with that one, Bob.

Now don't get me wrong, I get queasy when I hear undocumented workers scapegoated as the cause of all our problems. I disagree completely with both Stevens and Morganelli. But I think it's important that voters know who they're voting for, and I give Stevens credit for opening up.

Update: Stevens Defends Capitol Appearance. - In today's Hazelton Standard Speaker, Judge Stevens defends his appearance at a capitol press conference on Monday. Here's his explanation.

Kindly note I would like to clarify my visit to the Capitol on Monday, which was the result of an invitation to a press conference concerning the release to the public of a report on crimes committed and allegedly committed by people in the country illegally.

My comments were confined to a federal constitutional issue: federalism. In response to citizen complaints about the federal policy of non-enforcement of immigration laws, I suggested a possible solution would be to amend the federal immigration law to allow local governments to enforce the law.

Specifically, I spoke about providing due process rights in that county courts would be empowered, but not required, to hold deportation hearings. Thus, local communities which have serious problems with illegal immigration would have the tools to enforce laws that are already on the books.

Some present have chosen to characterize the event as some type of “rally” and have criticized me for being there.

Under current law, judges are permitted write, lecture, speak, even attend legislative hearings on just about any subject. I explained the rules and my reason for being present, and confined my remarks to the issue of sharing enforcement powers. As a former legislator, district attorney and trial judge, I was careful not to discuss anything involving the Pennsylvania legislature or executive branch.

Interestingly, even if the event were a “rally”, I would still have been able to attend and speak.

For example, all judges running for the open seats and the retention seats have appeared at “partisan” functions, namely the Democrat and Republican State Committee meetings.

And at those meetings speakers occasionally criticize the other political party, that’s part of our governmental process. By the judges being present, or even sharing the dais with those speakers, it doesn’t mean the judges are supporting or endorsing what is said. There are no prohibitions from those judges being present at the political party gatherings or even from speaking at those gatherings, in a year when those judges are up for election.

I can certainly understand that there is room for disagreement on the merits of what I said, the issue of federalism and allowing local governments more enforcement powers.

What concerns me is that there is the appearance now, from the news reports, that I had no right to discuss a federal constitutional issue not in any way before my court. I have always been sensitive to the need for judges to be fair and impartial in fact and in perception and will remain so.

Thank you,

Correale Stevens
Judge, Superior Court of PA


Anonymous said...

Speaking of Morganelli, have you ever excoriated him for his grandstanding on the immigration issue? Would other politicians escape your scorn quite so easily?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I like John, and I don't make up my mind about people based on one issue. Having said that, I've nailed him a few times for his position on illegal immigration. I'll post links.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Posts critical of Morganelli or his policies:

1) Illegal Immigrants - The New Jews of the Lehigh Valley

2) The Great Wall of the Lehigh Valley

3) Norco Democrats Afraid of Democracy

4) Morganelli Should Come Clean About Backstabbing Email

5) Morganelli Pays Price For Using King of Sleazeball Politics

I like John. I think he's the best DA that NC has ever seen. But i disagree with some of his policies. And I say so.

Anonymous said...

Saying you disagree with his policies is one thing. You didn't engage in personal attacks and name-calling though. You didn't call him a grandstander everytime he discussed immigration or tried a high profile case because he'll earn publicity.

I am not saying that Morganelli should or shouldn't do anything. Just wondering about double standards.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 12:17,

You didn't engage in personal attacks and name-calling though.

As a rule, I try to avoid that. I will attack what people do or say. I will sometimes write a parody in which I have people doing goofy things. But I don't like to attack people personally, and I don't like to resort to name-calling.

I go after Joe Long pretty hard, and I call him Bossman because that's how he refers to himself. He even signed a comment here that way. I called Debbie DePaul HRH DePaul bc she refers to her tenure as her reign. I do call people bastards at times, but those are usually people I like. But I don't like name-calling.

And when it comes to personal attacks, believe me when I tell you that I have a lot of dirt I can throw at many elected officials for what they do outside the political arena. But unless it's relevant to how they do their jobs, I leave it alone. If someone has a DUI or is lpaying around with a number of different woman, I don't think it's important unless it starts interfering with their work. I don't believe in personal attacks.

Have I gone after Sam Bennett? Yes. But I don't call her Scam Bennett and I stay away from her personal life. My attacks are based on what she does and what she says.

If I do engage in personal attacks, then I am wrong and you are right to criticize me.

And as far as JM is concerned, I don't call him a grandstander bc he sincerelt believes that crap about illegal immigration, and usually presents his position well. And when he tries a high profile case, you have to remember that is a double-edged sword. Morganelli can lose one of those cases. Incidentally, trying a murder case is very demanding, both physically and mentally. Most DAs duck all of them. There was a time, a few years back, when John had tried seven or eight murder cases straight. There are lots of ways to get publicity that aren't so demanding. And when you do a murder case, you have little time for anything else. Yet he had to administer an office.

Getting back to personal attacks, please tell me if you think I do it. I am very tough on a lot of people, but don't get personal.

In JM's case, he is a grandstander. He's a pol. He can't help it. But when he speaks about illegal imigration, I know it comes from his heart, even though he and I have disagreed many times. And no one who ever tried a murder case would ever accuse another person of doing one just to get some ink.

Thanks for questioning me on thisd point. It's very fair.

Anonymous said...

I question you only because I believe you are providing an important service and the greater your objectivity the more valuable that service will be.

As to whether A DA will personally try a murder case for the publicity you should seek out some former Assist. DAs if you want some truth there.

The recent posts about Nicole Fogel mentioned prison overcrowding. John's early (still?) get tough policy on non- violent and victimless crimes contributed to that problem. Do his state-wide political aspirations drive that position?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 8:55,

I thank you for your kind words. Although I believe I have an obligation to be fair, I don't pretend to be objective. Most of the best muckraking journalism comes from a times when the papers actually were very slanted. And since I have no training as a journalist, I think it's better for me to write from my heart and just admit that I have a bias. What's good about a blog is that someone can post a comment challenging me if I get out of line or make a mistake.

I am on friendly terms w/ many former DAs, and I've never heard that charge leveled against John. Are you asking me to look into it?

Neither the DA nor the courts can be blamed for prison overcrowding. In many cases now, the court has little discretion when it imposes a sentence. And the DA's job is to prosecute. Prison overcrowding has occurred bc we built a prison expansion that we knew would be full the moment it was built. It was very poor planning, and now Stoffa is stuck with finding an answer.

John is definitely a grandstander, a calculating politician. I don't think of him as some gung ho prosecutor out to arrest folks so he can get some ink.

In many cases, he has done things that he thinks are right even when politically unpopular. When he dismissed the upside down flying flag charges, a lot of people were very upset. His position on illegal immigration makes him as many enemies as friends. So I don't really think his political aspirations are what motivate his policies on crime.

I am prepared to be educated if I am wrong, but I've had lots of conversations w/ John over the years and he is both very accessible and very sincere.