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March 07, 2001

Primavera: Let Grand Jury Report be 'Wake-Up Cal' for Reform

Saying he hopes it sends "a loud-and-clear wake-up call to leaders, legislators and politicians," Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Carl S. Primavera today called a scathing state grand jury report lambasting Philadelphia's judicial election system "quite the confirmation of something we've always suspected." Primavera asked: "How many reports, how many investigations, how many hearings, how many indictments and how many proposed pieces of legislation do we need before we begin to turn away from judicial elections and adopt a non-elective system based on real merit?"

The Chancellor once again called upon the General Assembly in Harrisburg to pass a constitutional amendment which would create a non-elective system for the state's Appellate Court judges. Pennsylvania is one of only a handful of states that elects all of its judges. "We've got to start somewhere and we've got to start now," Primavera said. The proposed amendment would have to be passed in two successive sessions of the State Legislature and approved by the voters.

Noting that the Philadelphia Bar Association was one of the groups calling for the investigation which yesterday also resulted in charges against three Philadelphia ward leaders and a city official, Primavera stressed that "the charges are very serious but all of those charged are innocent until proven guilty. They are entitled to a vigorous defense and I'm sure they will have that. We pass no judgement on the accused. A court of law will render that decision. But we do pass judgement on the judicial election system and we find it must be reformed."

The Chancellor said that judicial elections and attendant charges of corruption merely perpetrate "precisely the kind of image of our city that we're trying to cast off." He urged voters to look for the Bar Association's "clear and objective ratings" of candidates seeking nominations in the May 15 judicial primary. "We will rate the candidates once again," Primavera said. "But I'm not sure how much longer we can continue to even try to be helpful to the voters when the system itself needs reforrm."

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