Bad judgment: Allegheny County court jobs are all in the family
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Every day, jurors are asked to make decisions based on this simple premise: Does the evidence make sense or does it defy logic?
The three most recent hires in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court raise the same question. Is it right that a tipstaff and a minute clerk and a law clerk -- all paid with public dollars -- got their jobs based on nepotism?
The first questionable hire was a tipstaff for President Judge Donna Jo McDaniel. Judge McDaniel's two daughters and two sons-in-law already have jobs in the court system. The latest opening came about after both daughters got promotions, and Judge McDaniel hired the nephew of her friend Helen Lynch, a former court administrator. Asked what qualifications he had, Ms. Lynch replied, "What do you have to do to be qualified to say 'All rise,' and swear in a jury?"
If the bar for being a tipstaff is so low, wouldn't other citizens like a shot at the job?
The next case involved a minute clerk, who keeps the record of court proceedings. Judge John T. McVay Jr. recommended his fiancee, Janine Palmer, and she got the job. "Yes, she's my fiancee, but I strongly feel she's very good with the public," he said.
In what enterprise would an applicant's fiancee be considered an appropriate job reference?
Then there's the law clerk. Criminal defense attorney Michael Foglia had been Judge Kelly Bigley's clerk, but when she was transferred to the court's criminal division, he couldn't keep the job because clerks may not serve in the same division where they represent clients. Instead, Judge Bigley hired Mr. Foglia's wife, Teri Michaels, even though she's not a lawyer.
Only one other county judge, Kim D. Eaton, employs a non-lawyer as her law clerk -- in her case, she's the daughter of the judge's best friend.
Is it plausible that Teri Michaels, a paralegal, is able to fulfill the duties of a law clerk, or has Mr. Foglia simply found a way to skirt the rules?
Judge McDaniel, as usual, wouldn't discuss any of these matters with a reporter. Judge Jeffrey A. Manning, the administrative judge for the criminal division, defended the hires, saying judges can hire whomever they choose as their secretaries, law clerks and tipstaffs. He said the court has "43 separate fiefdoms in the system."
He's right. Court employees work for Allegheny County but county officials have no oversight. The Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts doesn't have jurisdiction either. And that's the real problem.
None of it makes sense, and all of it is an affront to logic and an abuse of taxpayer dollars.
First Published December 19, 2012 12:00 am