Baker Questions Judicial Expenses, Conduct

HARRISBURG (March 29, 2011) –Luzerne County’s “kids-for-cash” corruption scandal was clearly on the mind of Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20) as she questioned judicial leaders about their spending, the pace of juvenile justice reforms, and their code of conduct.

At a recent budget hearing, Sen. Baker, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a sponsor of a comprehensive package of juvenile justice reforms, asked Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille about the costs associated with the Inter-branch Commission on Juvenile Justice, an 11-member panel formed in 2009 to investigate the Luzerne County courts and recommend changes.

Sen. Baker questioned why the Judicial Conduct Board is seeking $115,000 for services rendered during the investigation, when the entire cost of the commission came in at less than that—at about $105,000. Castille blamed the costs on understaffing and underfunding.

In asking for an update on the implementation of the commission’s recommendations, Chief Justice Castille said they consider all recommendations as equally important, and view the kids-for-cash kickback scheme as a “sad chapter” in the history of the courts. Commission recommendations include creating a statewide office of Juvenile Justice Victim Advocate, re-examining the Code of Judicial Conduct, reviewing and revising the Judicial Conduct Board’s Internal Operating Procedures, endorsing established training standards, and creating a state-based funding stream for indigent juvenile defense.

Sen. Baker asked judicial leaders for a commitment to the training and oversight of judges. Chief Justice Castille assured her that training is part of their budgetary request, and judges are interested in continuing legal education.

In seeking recommendations for future oversight, Chief Justice Castille pointed out that the Board and the Court of Judicial Discipline are independent and cannot be fired or changed. He explained that the board rewrote its rules, and the court is helping with the review process. As a constitutionally created board, it would require a constitutional amendment to change it, Justice Debra Todd added.

Contact: Jennifer Wilson
(570) 675-3931