Sunday, November 29, 2015

Pa. Court Quarrel

Behind the state budget battle another fight is brewing that could mean real contention between the branches of state government.

Pa. Court Quarrel

Bill Ward, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett´s Chief of Staff, will leave his position.
Bill Ward, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett's Chief of Staff, will leave his position.

As Gov. Corbett and legislative leaders try this week to reach an agreed state budget spending number, there's a behind-the-scenes battle brewing among the branches of government.

It's fueled by Corbett's decision to replace his recent chief of staff Bill Ward, which included nominating Ward to be an Allegheny County judge.

The nomination ignored a request by Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille that the governor hold off on any new judges until the 2013 judicial election cycle because the court system has a good-sized ($8.7 million) budget shortfall and judges cost money -- more than $200,000 a-pop.

But Corbett nominated Ward anyway, and because judicial nominations require 2/3 Senate approval (which means at least some Democrats would need to vote for the GOP nominee), the pricetag went up.

Late last Friday (actually at 4:59 PM), the governor's office issued a news release saying Corbett is nominating six more judges: four in Philly, one in Pittsburgh, one in York.

Here's the list:

T. Francis Shields and J. Scott O'Keefe, Philly Municipal Court; Kenneth J. Powell Jr. and Roger F. Gordon, Philly Court of Common Pleas; Paul E, Cozza, Allegheny Court of Common Pleas; Michael W. Flannelly, York County Court of Common Pleas. 

And I'm told the Senate has agreed to confirm Ward, no doubt as part of a deal to sweep at least some of the newly-nominated into office.

If they all get confirmed, that's at least another $1.4 million in taxpayer dough (when you count judicial benefits), all because the Guv wanted a change in his office and, as he said, because Ward always dreamed of being a judge.

The court and the legislature already are at odds over redistricting issues. Now the Guv and the courts are at odds over money.

So keep an eye out for two things in the months ahead: either supplemental court funding or (not to suggest there's ever politics on the bench) some interesting decisions impacting the administration and/or the Legislature.

Daily News Political Columnist
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About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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