Editorial: Good judgment / Those with experience are worth keeping
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In a reversal of Dale Carnegie's famous advice, judges influence people but they don't necessarily make friends. When judges hear a case, potential critics are everywhere before them -- lawyers, jurors and defendants. Fortunately, voters seem to understand that making everybody happy is not a recommendation for this difficult job and have taken a broad view when retention elections come around.
That history should help the six sitting Allegheny County Common Pleas judges who face the voters' judgment on Election Day, Nov. 8. (Elsewhere on the ballot, 10 fresh candidates are seeking to fill seven positions on the bench.)
To get to sit on the bench in the first place, judges must succeed in a contrary electoral system that often rewards name recognition or ethnic affiliation more than professional qualifications. But when judges complete a 10-year term on the bench, the system becomes more reasonable: They face a simple up-and-down retention vote that implicitly invites the public to judge the judges on the sum of their experience.
This means that grievances arising from individual cases tend to be overlooked in retention elections and weight is properly given to experience in the job. In fact, no sitting judge has failed to win re-election in Allegheny County in recent memory.
All six sitting judges no doubt have their detractors, some more so than others. For example, Judge Donald Machen, a former chief city magistrate, has had a couple of well-publicized incidents in which his temper got the better of him. But he has been a knowledgeable judge whose overall record does not add up to an argument for rejection -- a fate that should be invoked only for some notorious misdeed or public disservice.
Because experience does count for a lot, the Post-Gazette endorses the six judges standing for retention in Allegheny County: Judith Friedman, Robert Kelly, Walter Little, Donald Machen, Donna Jo McDaniel and Timothy O'Reilly.
The same logic applies for the biggest judicial retention decision that voters will make in this election -- for state Supreme Court. Justices Sandra Schultz Newman and Russell Nigro have both been diligent in their duties and both deserve retention -- which is why the Post-Gazette endorses them.
We do this in the knowledge that some populists would make them scapegoats for the unconscionable late-night pay grab in the Legislature. The judicial branch benefited from the pay raise along with lawmakers and executive officials, but these judges did not rule upon it on the bench.
While it might be mindlessly cathartic to register a protest in this way, we have previously pointed out that a shotgun approach is not the way to overturn a post-midnight pay raise, passed without debate or hearings. It's the perpetrators who should be targeted, not the bystanders. Pennsylvanians should retain the judges and thereby keep unsullied the moral claim that is the people's greatest strength in this fight.
First Published October 19, 2005 12:00 am