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Friday, March 13, 2009

Beltrami to Landfill Foes: Nobody Likes a Tattle Tale

Looks like The Committee to Save Williams Township has been judicially tossed into Chrin's landfill. After Judge Beltrami had rejected a Sunshine Act claim concerning a Chrin landfill expansion in Williams Township, landfill foes discovered that his single largest campaign contributor just happens to be Charles Chrin. Tonight, spokesperson Kathy Lilley issued a news release claiming she is "disappointed but not surprised" by Judge Beltrami's latest bullshit burger in rejecting a motion that he recuse himself.

Beltrami may very well have made the right call when he rejected the Sunshine Act claim. But Beltrami should have disclosed that this dispute involves his biggest campaign contributor. the judge huffs that doing so would make the judicial system "unmanageable."

I see. It would also make it honest.

Not every case before Beltrami involves his largest campaign contributor. Very few of his decisions involve donors, so what the hell is he talking about? His reasoning stinks as much as that landfill. I also love his petulant snark at this underfunded group, which has no lawyer, for tattling to the press. Excuse me, Judge, but what the hell difference does that make? Your court is open, isn't it?

Landfill foes went to the one group that actually cares about little things like government transparency and the appearance of impropriety - the press.


Anonymous said...

Why didn't he just recuse himself? Wasn't that the right thing to do?

Anonymous said...

Did you read the judge's opinion Bernie? I did. You're completely wrong on this one. Go read it.

lighthouse said...

People who are passionate about their issue will grasp at anything when they reach the point of desperation.

However, from my knowledge of Judge Beltrami, his integrity (judicial and personal) is high.

I realize in politics that perception is reality, whether or not your perception is actually based on truth. However, I honestly believe that you are barking up the wrong tree on this post.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Did you read the judge's opinion Bernie? I did. You're completely wrong on this one. Go read it."

The 32 page opinion was not posted at either news site, so I can only rely on the quoted portions in both news accounts.

My take is what I've posted. I will track down the opinion today and read it. Beltrami slams a group he knows had no lawyer. He creates some "unmanageable" requirement when he clearly knew or should have known his largest campaign contributor. He petulantly complains that nonlawyers went to the press instead of following the law when must have known damn well that they were unschooled.

What has always made Northampton County judges stand out is the respect they show to people before them, whether it is a lawyer from some other county or a person w/o a lawyer. That Beltrami opinion, from the limited excerpts made available to the public, read like an attempt to cover his ass.

Anonymous said...

Many judges will bow out of a case when a conflict is alleged. What bothers me in this matter, is that the conflict was raised AFTER the case had been heard and the judge ruled. The story is that the conflict was only discovered after the Sunshine Act claim had been litigated and rejected, but I believe the law generally states that when this conflict was readily discoverable it's the litigant's responsibility to raise it in a timely manner, and saying "I didn't know" until it was too late could be, as the judge suggests, sour grapes.
This situation stinks like landfill, but considering what I just wrote, maybe the judge was between a rock and a hard place. Would it be fair to the prevailing party to re-litigate based on this 11th-hour (actually, an after the fact) allegation of a conflict? What about judicial efficiency? I agree that the judge's pissing and moaning about going to the press is a juvenile, petulant and arrogant whine. But I disagree that when a litigant knowingly comes to court without a lawyer, that the court should bend over backwards to cut them any breaks. Treat them with respect, yes. But not let them cut corners.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 12:40,

You are correct. The allegation of bias came AFTER the ruling, when it does very much appears like sour grapes. I'd also agree that this claim, made after the ruling came down, was raised after it should have been discovered.

I am trying to get my hands on Beltrami's opinion and will try to have it by the end of the day. In fairness to him, I can only go by 2 neews accounts that certainll make Beltrami look petulant, and to say the least, disrespectful of the litigants.

They should have known about the contribution, a matter of public record. But in fairness to them, Roscioli did recuse herself for precisely that reason Were they entitled, therefore, to believe the matter had been reassigned to a judge without that problem? And is that part of the record?

Beltrami's "management" argument is spurious at best. he certainly should know and disclose his largest campaign contributors, especially in a matter of this sensitivity. And his slam at litigants for resorting to the media is thoroughly misplaced. Like it or not, the media is often the only thing standing between a citizen and tyranny.

I will read the opinion and I thank you for your well-stated justification.

not so casual observer said...

I agree that Beltrami should have recused himself BEFORE the hearing. Roscioli did. But then if you look at the contributions to Judges in NOrthamtpon COunty, I think that the hearing would have been moved west of the Mississippi.

Anonymous said...

12:40 -

Your other valid points aside, the court SHOULD bend over backward for an unrepresented party.

This is why the public holds lawyers and the judicial system in such low regard. They have created an arrogant, insulated self-serving system that allows for the bullying and suppression of any individual or group who can't afford to play.

No money? No legal background? You're fucked - the merits of your argument notwithstanding.

How is it that the great unwashed in this case should have known when and how to bring this motion, but the educated, elected, legal genius didn't recognize that there was, at least, the appearance of impropriety raised by his hearing a case involving his single largest campaign donor?

lighthouse said...

Despite the passionate pleas of the newer folks to Williams Township, the "right to counsel" bent taken by some of these posts that "the court" should "bend over backwards" to represent those collective objectors is not based in constitutional law, despite their sentimentality.

a.) sixth amendment applied to "criminal prosecutions", of which this is not. Even here, originally it was only those able to afford counsel. It was not until the "Powell" case of 1932 that public counsel was required for capital offenses, and not until the "Gideon" case of 1963 that the right was extended to all "felony" cases and applicable to the "State" level. Again, this is not a "right to counsel" case.

b.) the PA constitution: "In all criminal prosecutions the accused hath a right to be heard by himself and his counsel" again, of which, this is not a criminal prosecution.

c.) "No money? No legal background? You're fucked - the merits of your argument notwithstanding."....just maybe there were no merits?!? Besides, the elected body of Williams Township should be the voice here. We are a republic, not a direct democracy. If upset, then change your Board. If you are in the minority, then don't abuse the legal system to get what you could not achieve through the representative democracy the majority of voters chose.

lighthouse said...

In case it was lost in the longer post, the real blunt reality is the end of my prior post:

Besides, the elected body of Williams Township should be the voice here. We are a republic, not a direct democracy. If upset, then change your Board. If you are in the minority, then don't abuse the legal system to get what you could not achieve through the representative democracy the majority of voters chose.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Lighthouse, Thank you for your observations, which are valid. The right to counsel only applies in the criminal arena.

At 4 PM, I got my hands on the 32 page opinion. I was able to read it, but there was no time to make a copy. Let me summarize.

1) For the first 29 pages or so, it's a very good opinion. In the last three pages, I think Beltrami gets a little weird.

2) Beltrami, in his discussion of the Sunshine Act claim, notes that whatever violations occurred were subsequently ratified at an open meeting. That's the common cop out to our toothless Sunshine Act, but that's the law.

3) Beltrami cites authority to support the following propositions - bias must be asserted before a proceeding is over or the matter is waived; - Plaintiffs had over a year in which to raise this issue but failed to do so until he ruled. To me, that is more or less dispositive.

4) Plaintiffs had a lawyer until he ruled against them.

5) Beltrami goes on to discuss that there is no record that Roscioli recused herself for that very reason and he was appointed to take her place. He denies having any knowledge that Roscioli had recused herself. Now there the record is very weak. Since this is a motion that Beltrami filed himself, I believe Roscioli should have testified, or perhaps the court administrator, who would probably have some knowledge.

6) Beltrami points out that Plaintiffs' lawyers contributed, too. if his point is to establish they only gave 1/5 what Chrin gave, he succeeded.

7) Beltrami notes Chrin is not a party. That's a red herring. We all know this is about the Chrin landfill, so that was disingenuous.

8) His argument that Plaintiffs are urging him to check every case against his list of donors is inaccurate. Moreover, I find it hard to believe he did not know that Chrin gave him money. It accounted for 6% of his total and Chrin was his largest contributor.

9) The snark about going to the PJ and press is unwarranted. At this point, these people no longer had a lawyer. He acts as though they had some ethical obligation to come to him first and that's a load of crap. Having concluded he is biased, they probably did not know where to go.

10) Beltrami has a lengthy discussion of the Code of Judicial Conduct, but dfails to note the ABA requirement that he disclose.

My conclusion is that he made the right ruling. I believe him when he said he decided this case fairly. Plaintiffs should have discovered the possible bias and had a year to do so. They waived their rights once the matter was over.

But the way his opinion ends is unncessarly insulting to the Plaintiffs and a tad petulant.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I stumbled on this while looking for information on another case. Seeing the actual numbers there really does give it a perspective tho.