THE PHRASES I most often hear regarding Pennsylvania politics are “Ya just gotta wonder” and “You can’t make this stuff up.”
Elicitors of these phrases keep coming: from the parade of former leaders packed off to prison, to the carnival of current leaders wrestling each other and the courts over legislative maps.
But behind high-profile vice and ineptness are examples of structural flaws.
Let’s look at a couple of those, shall we?
Surely you recall earlier this year when the House unanimously declared 2012 “the Year of the Bible” with a resolution several members later disavowed and said they hadn’t read.
In other words, they passed a measure symbolically suggesting aversion to the constitutional separation of church and state – without reading it.
Not exactly a confidence-builder, right?
Well, the resolution is still in place, despite efforts to roll it back. My guess is that “leaders” think bringing it up again and subjecting it to debate only risks further humiliation. And who needs that?
Still, ya just gotta wonder – about sensitivity to religious freedoms; about elected officials asleep at the switch during legislative action.
Then there’s (let’s be kind and say) occasional inaction.
Take another resolution rotting in the House Judiciary Committee for a year.
It authorizes investigating Philly Common Pleas Judge Willis Berry to determine if Berry is liable for impeachment.
Its sponsor, state Rep. Stephen Barrar, R-Delaware County, says that Berry got a “slap on the wrist” in 2009 for running a real-estate business out of his chambers, adding that it’s “outrageous” that the state Supreme Court allows him to stay on the bench.
Barrar’s resolution has 17 co-sponsors. The Bible resolution had 36.
To refresh your memory, Berry was smacked by the Court of Judicial Discipline for using his secretary and office to manage 16 properties, including multiunit rentals in “poor condition,” repeatedly cited for nuisance, health and safety-code violations, a/k/a slums.
The court said his office computer, phone, fax, stationery and postage were used for lease agreements, eviction complaints and filing tax returns; that his chambers were used for meetings with tenants or prospective tenants, and that all this went on for more than a decade.
The court labeled it “criminal conduct.”
But the court disposed of the case in July 2009 by suspending Berry for four months without pay but with medical benefits – paid for, of course, by you.
He remains on the bench at $169,541 a year.
Ya can’t make this stuff up.
“Not only should Judge Berry be impeached,” says Barrar, “he should be in prison . . . judges are sending lawmakers to jail, and rightly so if they abuse their offices, for a lot less than Berry did.”
I spoke with Judge Berry. I asked if he still runs a real-estate business.
“Of course I do,” he said. “I own a lot of properties.”
When I asked about Barrar’s resolution, he said, “Talk to my lawyer.”
Berry’s lawyer, Sam Stretton, says that Berry’s case had “a complete and full resolution,” that the secretary in question is gone, that Berry stopped the behavior in question and “has been very productive on the bench since then.”
Stretton added: “I just don’t see the basis for an impeachment situation at all.”
I called Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin County, but an aide said, “He doesn’t really want to comment.”
So there you have it.
Lawmakers are more than willing to act on unnecessary stuff such as backing the Bible, even if they don’t read the unnecessary stuff.
But they are unwilling to consider a case of extensive abuse of office by a person who sits in judgment of others and gets a questionably soft rebuke from a self-protective judiciary.
Ya just gotta wonder.
Attribution: Philadelphia Daily News — written by John Baer, Daily News Political Columnist
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