In Northampton courts hire daughter of senior judge, Yates reports that Northampton County judges recently hired Alicia Zito, daughter of Senior Judge Leonard Zito, despite a nepotism ban that would prevent Zito from hiring her directly. Retired judge has biggest caseload in Northampton County reports that Senior Judge Leonard Zito handles the lion's share of criminal cases.
Not too far from here, two Lackawanna County judges recently initiated and participated in a Kids for cash scandal. Like the evil characters in a Charles Dickens' novel, they preyed on our young, strictly out of lucre. They got away with it for years because no one would speak up. In Washington County, judicial in-fighting resulted in a recent Supreme Court order, relieving a President Judge from her administrative duties. The State Supreme Court has recently lost two justices to scandal and criminal activity. So let there be scrutiny of the judges, too. Memento mori.
But is there something really wrong the Alicia Zito hire? Is there something wrong about assigning one judge to handle the routine and noncontroversial criminal matters? Let's look at these matters.
The Alicia Zito hire.
Forget Judge Zito for a moment and look at Alicia Zito, all by herself. Until very recently, she was Superior Court Judge Jack Panella's Chief Judicial Law Clerk, assisting him in preparing the one to two opinions their busy workload demands. I met her once when I visited Judge Panella, and he spoke very highly of her. Unfortunately for Judge Panella, she plans to join Federal District Judge Edward Smith soon, in what is certainly a step up in her career.
At the same time in Northampton County, President Judge Stephen Baratta has a judicial law clerk about on maternity leave. He needs someone to replace her sort-term. Bringing in someone who was passed over in the earlier interviews is not an answer, not when someone with Zito's qualifications is available for a few months.
Now there is a ban on judges hiring family members. I also believe that if one judge is conflicted, every judge on that bench is conflicted. So ordinarily, I'd agree that the Zito hire is a bad idea. But given the temporary nature of this appointment, and Zito's experience as a judicial law clerk for Superior Court Judge Jack Panella, this is a no-brainer.
Legally, it can probably be justified by the doctrine of necessity. Highly experienced law clerks who are willing to work just a few months for what seems like a low salary are very rare.
Let me add, as a rule, judges have always been leery of hiring family members, even the sons and daughters of attorneys who practice before them.
If Judge Zito Works Hard, Are Other Judges Lazy?
If there is one thing I love to do, it's to catch judges goofing off. Over the years, I've caught them deserting the courthouse a few times, and would write gleefully about it. I usually had to correct my posts because I would later learn that they were going to some judicial conference or some judge club meeting somewhere, maybe to try on new robes.
Yates's second story is no revelation. Everyone knows that Judge Leonard Zito is a workhorse. He was that way when he practiced law, too. I'm pretty sure he recently set the record for most arraignments in one day. 48. An arraignment is when a Defendant is formally notified he's in deep shit. Much of the time, especially in minor cases, that's when a Defendant will plead guilty, too. He might even get his sentence.
At the beginning of last year, when John Brown took his oath as Executive, President Judge Stephen Baratta specifically stated this was how the courts planned to use Judge Zito. Seems to me like a pretty good call, especially since it's likely that he will be able to be a Senior Judge for several more years.
The unstated question in the Yates story is whether the rest of the bench is lazy. I'm sure judges are offended at this unstated question, which might explain why Yates has decided to go on paternity leave. But it's a fair question.
Yates does attempt to answer his unstated question by pointing to what some of the other judges do.
Let me add to that a bit:
- Judge Beltrami handles the asbestos docket, and conducted a month-long trial last year.
- Judge Roscioli handles most of the domestic relations cases
- Judge Giordano handles the Orphans Court, the Michael Ballard murders, and the never-ending Chrin landfill lawsuits
- President Judge Baratta has completely streamlined Custody Court, eliminating masters and insisting on more judicial involvement.
- Judges Dally and Baratta have established a Mental Health Court.
- Does it have too many masters?
- Shouldn't real judges handle Gagnon I and II hearings, as opposed to court administrators?
- Should the courts re-institute a Fines and Costs Court to bring in some of the millions in unpaid fines and restitution out there?