A letter from State Rep. Pam DeLissio regarding the recent tragedy in Manayunk

Dear Neighbor,

To a one, I believe we are all terribly saddened and appalled at the murder/suicide that occurred in Manayunk this past week involving a 7-year-old little girl and her biological father. I know only what I have read in the paper and I am aware of much commentary on social media. In particular, citizens are questioning the process and the decisions made by the judge in this matter.

One recurring thought that I had over the past few days is: Do constituents understand how judges come to sit on the bench? Do citizens know that judges, at all levels of the judiciary in Pennsylvania, are elected to the bench? How many citizens voted in those election years when district magistrates, municipal court (in Philadelphia), common pleas, commonwealth, superior, and the Pa. Supreme Court judges are elected?

What level of due diligence did voters exercise when deciding who was best qualified to sit in judgment and make these ‘life and death’ decisions that impact our lives?

Were the county and state bar recommendations reviewed before a citizen voted? Or did party loyalty prevail over qualifications and the voter simply accepted the recommendations of whoever was handing out sample ballots at the polling place?

Perhaps all of us contributed to Kayden’s brutal and untimely passing if we either did not vote or voted in such a way to elect a less than qualified person to the bench?

How can we do this better?

HB 111, a bill establishing the merit selection of statewide appellate court judges, was voted out of the House Judiciary Committee in May 2018. It is undetermined if it will be called up in the House chamber for a vote. Merit selection is a better way to ensure a fair, impartial, and qualified judiciary. Merit selection focuses on 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.

I know that HB 111 would not include the common pleas level of the judiciary – the level where the judge in Kayden’s situation sat. However, if we successfully pass merit selection at the appellate level, there is nothing to stop us from extending it to all levels of the court.

I have been a proponent of merit selection long before coming to elected office. Kayden is a perfect, and sad, example of the reason why I support merit selection at all levels. If you are so inclined, please let me know your thoughts on this matter.