I'd say No. I agree that an Executive's picks for cabinet level positions should be given great deference. And Durkin certainly does have a law degree, and is the person Brown wants. But a Solicitor is more than Brown's legal mouthpiece. He represents the people of Northampton County in all civil matters. Historically, the position has been conferred only on the County's top lawyers. Legal scholars like Bill Moran and Jack Panella, who went on to become distinguished jurists. Even now, former Solicitor Vic Scomillio is running for Judge. Brown would like to give this important position to a debt collection lawyer. One who does not even live in this County. Having reflected on it, I find the choice insulting.
It's insulting to the attorneys who preceded Durkin and accepted a low salary for a part-time position. They were there to serve the County and make it a better place. Durkin is there for the dough.. In response to a question from Ken Kraft, he conceded he's not even a member of the Northampton County Bar and has no familiarity with the County's judges or its lawyers.
Durkin has done some work for two counties, but mostly in the same role that predators like Portnoff Law occupy. He's a tax farmer. A hired gun who goes after poor bastards who fall behind on their real estate taxes, filing liens and charging outrageous sums as "reasonable" attorney fees. In some people's minds, those are lawyers. In my mind, they are tax farmers. These privatized tax collectors have been viewed with derision since this nation was first formed, yet John Brown is embracing one of them as the Solicitor
With his unilateral changes to the health care plans in place for County workers, we know what John Brown thinks of what he once called "the County's most valuable asset." Now you should know what he thinks of the rest of you. He is bringing in a man who specializes in squeezing nickels and dimes out of taxpayers.
A very real part of what a County Solicitor does requires knowledge of the Pa. Municipalities Planning Code, the Third Class County Code and numerous arcane laws regarding the filing of documents in the various row offices. Durkin, though a lawyer, knows none of this because his practice is focused on different areas.
To make matters worse, he's a tad cocky. "I've read the Home Rule Chater," he told Council member Bob Werner, adding that he's "litigated derivative complaints. I've litigated just about everything under the Sun. The complexity of the Home Rule Charter or the Lackawanna County Administrative Code or the tax laws, I have not found to be tremendously difficult to apprehend."
I apprehend that as a problem
My father used to tell me he knew a lot of people with law degrees, but very few lawyers. As a person who possesses a law degree and was retired before my time as an attorney by a unanimous Pennsylvania Supreme Court, I think this is a bad nomination. The County needs a lawyer, not a tax collector. A lawyer who is willing to tell the executive what he needs to hear, not what he wants to hear. It makes no difference to me whether Brown can work with him. This man is there to represent the entire County, not just Brown
Brown submitted a letter of recommendation on behalf of Durkin, hoping it might push him over the top. And maybe it will. It's a letter from a Philadelphia lawyer who, like Brown, graduated from Notre Dame and watched Durkin grow up. It establishes that Durkin is a fine man, and I have no doubt that he is. But this job requires a fine lawyer, knowledgeable in municipal law and from this County. We're getting a debt collector. Durkin will be a workin' for the County, collecting $58,000 to shake the money tree.