Lancaster County’s two state senators, Republicans Ryan Aument and Scott Martin, intend to begin interviewing candidates this week for an impending judicial vacancy on the county’s Court of Common Pleas, LNP’s Sam Janesch reported Tuesday. Aument and Martin received letters of interest from 10 candidates who hope to replace retiring Judge Jay J. Hoberg, who will step down Jan. 31. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is required to fill the vacancy with the consent of the 50-member Senate. Jake Smeltz, Aument’s chief of staff, said in a statement that the senators do not intend to release the names of the applicants “out of respect for those who contacted them.”
Release the applicants’ names, Sens. Aument and Martin.
We understand that you may want to shield the privacy of the candidates seeking to become a county court judge, but there’s a greater interest that is owed your respect: the public’s trust.
This is no ordinary job application process in which the job seeker has an expectation of privacy. This is a search for someone to fill what is ordinarily an elective position.
Candidates for Common Pleas judgeships are normally vetted not only by voters but by attorneys who assess whether the candidates ought to be recommended by the local bar association based on measures such as legal knowledge and judicial temperament.
And the bar association, incidentally, releases the name of every candidate it assesses, unless a candidate withdraws before the association’s ratings are released.
The selection of Hoberg’s replacement cannot be an inside job, conducted behind closed doors. This process must be as transparent as we were led to believe it would be.
Remember, Sen. Aument, that when you issued a news release about the search for Hoberg’s replacement, you said you and Martin wanted “to be public about it, so all those across Lancaster County, Republicans or Democrats, would be able to submit their names for consideration.”
The openness should not have ended there. Transparency ought to be practiced throughout this selection process so that the public can be assured of its integrity.
It is not enough for Aument’s chief of staff to laud in a statement “the quality of those who asked to be considered,” to say they “represent some of the finest and most highly qualified people in Lancaster County.”
Tell us their names. If they’re highly qualified, they should be OK with a public vetting.
The appointment of a judge is an infrequent occurrence, and we understand the process is collaborative. Wolf will be the one to make the appointment; the state Senate will need to give its consent. And we understand that customarily home senators have a role in determining who gets the job.
Sens. Aument and Martin, you said in your initial news release that you intended “to promote a fair selection and appointment process,” and that you take “seriously” your role in this process.
But with respect, neither of you is a lawyer. Are you consulting with expert attorneys?
And how can a selection be fair if it’s not transparent?
The reality is, even a process that is meticulously fair will be regarded as unfair if it’s carried out in secret.
Our judges need to be seen as impartial arbiters of justice. Judges hold a great deal of sway over people’s lives, and not just those who appear before them in court.
Sens. Aument and Martin, if your constituents view the candidate you choose as the product of a closed and partisan process, that candidate will carry that burden to the bench.
So release the candidates’ names, for their sake and for the sake of the court.
As one judge once said, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”
Those words were uttered by the late U.S. Supreme Court Judge Louis Brandeis. He was pretty good at his job. You’d do well to heed his words.