Three judges don't get bar association's vote

Posted: November 08, 2011

IT SHOULD COME as no surprise that the Philadelphia Bar Association is urging residents to unseat three judges up for retention today.

The city's haphazard judicial-selection process - candidates can get elected with a lucky ballot position or an ethnic-sounding name, and by greasing the palms of the right ward leaders - virtually guarantees a few schmoes on the bench and the ballot.

This year, the bar association has slapped the dreaded "not-recommended" rating on Common Pleas Judges James Lynn and Robert Rebstock, and Municipal Judge James DeLeon.

The association conducts extensive investigations before issuing its ratings, but the reasons behind the ratings are not publicized. DeLeon, however, was suspended for three months without pay in 2009 for issuing a "stay-away" order on behalf of a social acquaintance.

The bar association also issued a "not-recommended" rating for Common Pleas Court candidates Jim Divergilis and Ted Viglante. The home and office of Traffic Court Judge Michael Sullivan, who is up for retention today, recently were raided by the FBI.

Shira Goodman, deputy director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said a candidate's legal qualifications often take a back seat to other issues in judicial elections, which are "designed to reward political connections, success at fundraising and being good on the campaign trail - none of which are necessarily relevant to being a good judge."

Bar Chancellor Rudolph Garcia said that the association has long advocated for merit-based selection of appellate-court judges but that he supports reform at the trial-court level as well.

"Most voters don't appreciate the importance of this and don't really know anything about the candidates," Garcia said.

"Sometimes they'll walk into the voting booth and just pick first 10, or they'll look at a name and say, 'I'm Irish and that's an Irish name, so I'll put that guy in.' "

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