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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, October 31, 2016

How NorCo Law Clerk Code of Conduct Should Ban Outside Legal Work

Last week, I told you that Northampton County's nine judicial law clerks are an entitled bunch. They are overpaid, and as a result, some of them now treat an apprenticeship as a career option. Three of them are vested in the county pension, which has a negative impact on county finances. They have also cost the County $110,225 in divorce stipends since 2010, getting paid to do what their job description already requires. Some of even moonlighting doing legal research for attorneys who practice in Northampton County court.

President Judge Stephen Baratta is pretty much blameless in this matter. He was never involved in setting, managing or paying out this execrable divorce stipend, which goes back to the days when clerks were paid a pittance. He also made clear that his factotums put in a full work, something his own work product proves. He also reassured Council that no clerk of his has ever been given permission to do outside legal work. But he also said that the Code of Conduct for law clerks was recently revised. That's true, but any reasonable interpretation of the Code should make it pretty clear that no clerk should be permitted to do research for an attorney who practices in Northampton County, even if it is research for another county. Permitting this kind of behavior completely undermines public confidence in the judiciary and totally defeats the purpose of a Code of Conduct.

If PJ Baratta refuses to permit his clerk to moonlight for attorneys, that should be a signal to other judges.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

As PJ, is Baratta in charge? If so, and he believes and operates the way you describe, shouldn't he issue a directive to the other judges to treat their clerks in the same manner?

Anonymous said...

Some of the blame, if clerks are in fact assisting practicing attorneys, goes to the attorneys themselves....I would never consider hiring a law clerk to do my research. This is not because of the presumed quality of the work but simply because of the conflict of interest issue. I cannot imagine how this practice, again assuming it actually occurs, would ever have started. A law clerk has one "boss" and simply cannot ever work for attorneys, whether in or out of Northampton County. Back in the "old days", when a clerk got a job, to commence after the his/her clerkship ended, that clerk's judge would avoid taking on any cases from the attorney/firm until after the clerk left the employ of the judge. In fact, for at least a few months to a year or so, the judge would avoid having the clerk practice before him/her....It would seem those days are gone.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"As PJ, is Baratta in charge? If so, and he believes and operates the way you describe, shouldn't he issue a directive to the other judges to treat their clerks in the same manner?"

A President Judge is not like a King or even President of the US. He is a first among equals and has no real supervisory authority over the other judges. I think he'd need agreement from four other judges to issue a directive, and am not sure he even thinks this is a big deal, as I and some others do.

Bernie O'Hare said...

".I would never consider hiring a law clerk to do my research. This is not because of the presumed quality of the work but simply because of the conflict of interest issue. I cannot imagine how this practice, again assuming it actually occurs, would ever have started."

I can assure you it exists with at least two law firms. It may not be widespread, but it is happening. These clerks are getting a completely wrong idea of what they do.

JoAnn Kennedy said...

Hi Bernie,

great research and yes, this info is a little disquieting on so many levels. So, I called the AOPC and asked some questions -- the only response I did receive was to call the Executive Administrator of the AOPC Let me know if you want the number or if you wish me to follow up -- Zigmont Pines is no longer working there he must have retired.

JoAnn Kennedy said...

PS do you know if this is a practice at Nor Co or is it in other County Court houses as well?

Anonymous said...

See how our corrupt system works with Barratta knowing this all along and did nothing

Bernie O'Hare said...

I've explained why Baratta is more or less blameless. You dwon't even say who you are. Figures.

Bernie O'Hare said...

JoAnn, I have no idea what goes on elsewhere, except that most county law clerk positions are 1-2 years statewide.

Anonymous said...

OK thanks. I mistakenly thought it meant he had a leadership role.