Letters to the editor: 5/8/05

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Santorum's actions led to large judicial caseloads here
The statement of Sen. Rick Santorum that John H. Bingler Jr. was not qualified to serve as a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania cannot go unchallenged ("Democrats Say Santorum Blocked Judges, Too," May 2). Mr. Bingler was one of the ablest and most competent trial lawyers to ever appear in the District Court, and he was respected by the bench and bar. He also served as president of the Allegheny County Bar Association, was a member of the Academy of Trial Lawyers and was rated exceptionally well qualified in all ratings by the bar association.

The same can be said of Lynette Norton. Ms. Norton was an expert in insurance law, an author of textbooks on the subject, a mediator, lecturer and member of the Academy of Trial Lawyers. She practiced for years in federal court and was relied on by the court for many complex and difficult assignments. She too received exceptionally well qualified ratings by the bar association.

From 1994 to 2002, Sen. Santorum blocked all appointments to the District Court, unless the president agreed to appoint his candidate to the court. As a result, the caseloads of each active judge increased to more than 500 cases, the court was declared a judicial emergency by the Judicial Conference of the United States and the litigants (including major local companies) waited years for their cases to be adjudicated.

Perhaps if Sen. Santorum spent more time in Penn Hills and less time in Virginia, he would be better positioned to assess the relative qualifications of the candidates for the local federal court.

Upper St. Clair

Editor's note: The writer served as a U.S. District Court judge from 1978 to 2003 and was chief judge from 1994 to 2001.

Pure garbage
In the May 2 article "Democrats Say Santorum Blocked Judges, Too," Sen. Rick Santorum stated he killed the nomination of John Bingler to the U.S. District Court because he did not believe Bingler was qualified for the post.

What garbage! John Bingler was and is one of the best lawyers in all of Pennsylvania. He has been rated "highly qualified" by every legal group that has ever rated him for a judicial appointment. Santorum stopped this worthy appointment for purely ideological reasons as is known to everyone who followed this saga.

How much longer must the people of Pennsylvania listen to Santorum's lies?

Feldstein Grinberg Stein & McKee

Pedestrian targets
With only a week left in my run at Pittsburgh Public Theater, I wanted to state how much I've enjoyed Pittsburgh. I've seen sights: the Carnegie Museum, Cathedral of Learning, National Aviary, Fallingwater, and I've done some very Pittsburghian things: breakfast at DeLuca's, dinner at The Common Plea, the terrifying french fries at the Original Hot Dog Shop.

Having enjoyed all that, I have one negative comment. It's about the driving. Our entire company lives and works within 10 blocks of the Strip, the stadiums, the Downtown hotels and theaters, the convention center: all the tourist spots. And each one of us has nearly been run down, not jaywalking, but with a walk sign illuminated or the recorded voice informing us that "the walk sign is on to cross Penn Avenue" (something that repeats all night long for those of you who reside elsewhere).

A dozen times I've been chased back to the curb by cars turning left or right, including by city buses and police cars. Crossing to the Westin hotel, a cab driver honked at the car in front of him for not running us down, then paused to spew profanities and slurs at the director, set designer and me. And I thought cabs wanted tourist business.

I've spent years in New York and L.A., but I have never encountered such hostility toward pedestrians. A city is really all about its foot traffic. Ask the Downtown businesses or urban planners like Jane Jacobs. You don't want your convention or All-Star game guests to recollect fear and hostility when they recall their trip to Pittsburgh. Pedestrians are the ones who are actually enjoying the city and spending their money. They're happier when they're not targets.


Editor's note: The writer is co-starring in "The Bird Sanctuary" with Hayley Mills through May 15.

Elected row officers are professionals who keep costs down
I wish to respond to your newspaper's recent editorials against election of row officers ("Row of Savings," April 13; "Yes to Reform," April 26). When I entered office in 2000, the Allegheny County clerk of courts office left a lot to be desired. I chose to run for the county office to make an impact for our county. After successfully running Matta Inc., my family and I decided to give up the business so I could serve as the full-time clerk of courts.

Your April 13 editorial concludes with the claim that these row offices should be filled with "professional managers" and suggests that voters are electing unqualified individuals for these positions. I have a master's degree in industrial relations from St. Francis University, owned a successful small business, served as the mayor of the city of Duquesne and worked as a supervisor of benefits administration for PPG Industries.

In less than six years, my office has increased collections of fines, cost and restitution from $4.6 million to more than $10 million. We now collect more money than any other clerk of courts in Pennsylvania, including the appointed ones. We also have professionalized the office by instituting merit hiring, performance evaluation and staff training. We are one of only a few revenue-generating offices within Allegheny County government.

My eight Democratic row office colleagues and I have a combined total of nine graduate and professional degrees. Contrary to the stereotype spread by opponents of elected row officers, Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht is not the only Democrat with an advanced education. Your editors seem willing to believe that the qualifications, skill and efficiency of political appointees will be superior to elected officials but conveniently ignore the likelihood that political appointees would command salaries that are double the amount paid to me and my elected colleagues.

The promise of savings and efficiency through appointment of row offices is an illusion. If the voters vote "Yes" on the May 17 home rule charter amendment, they will eventually have to confront the reality of higher taxes and less responsive government, which is the predictable result of a fragmented government top-heavy with appointed administrators.

Clerk of Courts
Allegheny County

Keep politics out
The referendum to cut row offices will rescue confused voters from a recurring dilemma. How many citizens know what a prothonotary is or what he does? To determine who is qualified for this mysterious job is an impossible duty.

The other row offices have self-explanatory titles, but should voters give them their jobs? Reducing the number of row officers and appointing them seems sensible, but the power to appoint should not be political.

Would it be fairer if a panel of judges or the bar association made the appointments based on applicants' experience and skills?


Opposing embryonic stem-cell research isn't anti-scientific
A recent Forum piece by Jeffrey Hart traced the influence of the Evangelical movement on President Bush, concluding with a list of "foolish" administration policies ("The Evangelical Effect," April 17). I agree with some concerns but take issue with including the refusal to fund embryonic stem-cell research. On this point, it is proponents of abortion and embryonic research who often allow philosophy to trump science.

Opposition to embryonic stem-cell research is based on the belief that an embryo is a human person. Mr. Hart considers this foolish, yet it is based in science as well as faith. From a scientific standpoint, at conception a fertilized egg is a unique human being. Whether it is a "person" with a right to life is a question for religion and philosophy, but we generally consider living human beings to be persons.

The burden of proof falls on proponents of abortion to make a case that some arbitrary point in development is the beginning of "personhood." If an embryo is a person, then opposition to embryonic stem-cell research is not an "indefensible position." Adult stem-cell research is showing exciting results in human trials and is further along than embryonic research. Is it "indefensible" for the government to invest taxpayer money in a line of research with greater promise, without difficult moral questions?

One does not have to be anti-scientific to oppose abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. Opposition to the destruction of unborn humans is consistent with belief in scientific fact as well as religious faith.

Stanton Heights

Editor's note: The writer has a Ph.D. in bioengineering.


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