Ques­tions over judge­ment in Man­cusco case could lead to re­form

The Review - - OBITUARIES - By state Rep. Pamela DeLis­sio Pamela DeLis­sio is the state rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the 192nd Leg­isla­tive District.

As a com­mu­nity of neigh­bors, friends and loved ones, many of us in the Manayunk area were ter­ri­bly sad­dened and shaken over this month’s mur­der/sui­cide in­volv­ing a 7-year-old girl and her fa­ther. Many are now ask­ing how this tragedy could have been avoided.

As a state rep­re­sen­ta­tive, I am di­rectly asked and wres­tle with the ques­tion my­self: how could the sys­tem have helped Kay­den Man­cusco and her fam­ily? How can we avoid some­thing like this from hap­pen­ing again?

An an­swer I’ve mulled the past few days in­volves other ques­tions: do con­stituents un­der­stand how judges come to sit on their benches in Penn­syl­va­nia? I won­der because, es­pe­cially in this case, it’s been widely panned that a judge could have done more to pro­tect Kay­den.

What level of dili­gence do vot­ers ex­er­cise when de­cid­ing who is best qual­i­fied to be a judge and make life and death de­ci­sions? Do our state laws and elec­toral sys­tems over­ride merit and in­flu­ence how a cit­i­zen votes? Do pol­i­tics pre­clude more qual­i­fied can­di­dates from the bal­lot, leav­ing vot­ers with lim­ited par­ti­san op­tions?

You could even ask, based on the very way judges make it to a bench in Penn­syl­va­nia, did we all con­tribute to Kay­den’s bru­tal and un­timely pass­ing if we ei­ther did not vote or voted in such a way to elect an un­qual­i­fied per­son to the bench?

How can we all do this bet­ter?

One fix we could make to bet­ter vet judges in Penn­syl­va­nia is found in H.B. 111, the merit se­lec­tion of statewide ap­pel­late court judges, as voted out of the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee in May. A full vote in the House this fall is un­cer­tain.

Merit se­lec­tion is a bet­ter way to en­sure a fair, im­par­tial and qual­i­fied ju­di­ciary. I know that H.B. 111 would not in­clude the com­mon pleas level of the ju­di­ciary – the level where the judge in Kay­den’s sit­u­a­tion sat. At its core though, merit se­lec­tion would change fo­cus to qual­i­fi­ca­tions: le­gal ex­pe­ri­ence, rep­u­ta­tion for eth­i­cal be­hav­ior, hon­esty, fair­ness and good tem­per­a­ment.

Ap­pel­late court judges would no longer be cho­sen based on their bal­lot po­si­tion, cam­paign fundrais­ing abil­i­ties or where they live. Ju­di­cial can­di­dates would no longer be re­quired to en­gage in a process that leaves them seem­ingly be­holden to wealthy lawyers and spe­cial in­ter­est groups who might ap­pear be­fore them in court. Re­mov­ing money from our court­rooms helps to in­crease pub­lic con­fi­dence in the courts.

If we can suc­cess­fully pass merit se­lec­tion re­form at the ap­pel­late level, there is noth­ing to stop us from ex­tend­ing it to all lev­els of the court.

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