Archive for September 2007

Ballard Spahr Creates Rail Infrastructure Group Out of Utah

September 24, 2007

Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll brought on a new partner to its Salt Lake City office to head up the firm’s newly created passenger-rail infrastructure group.

Kathryn H.S. Pett was the former secretary and general counsel at the Utah Transit Authority.

The new practice area will help clients with issues related to the development of infrastructure for intercity rail, regional commuter rail and light rail transit operations.

Pett will be joined at the firm by her former colleague at the Utah Transit Authority. Bart Simmons was the senior corporate counsel at the authority and will join Ballard Spahr as of counsel in the public finance department. After leaving the authority, Simmons represented public and private clients on issues regarding federal and state government contract requirements.

“Kathryn is a great addition and brings to us a new, cutting-edge practice,” Ballard Spahr Chairman Arthur Makadon said in a statement. “Kathryn’s extensive experience as secretary and general counsel of the Utah Transit Authority makes her one of the leading lawyers in the country in the area of infrastructure transit projects. With Kathryn’s impressive array of transportation clients, the practice area will take off, especially given the other resources that we will make available to her.”

Pett managed the $185 million contract negotiations between the authority and the Union Pacific Railroad.

Both Pett and Simmons join from Snell & Wilmer in Salt Lake City.

— Gina Passarella, Staff Reporter

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Nutter Nixes Decker From Fundraiser

September 21, 2007

Democratic mayoral candidate Michael Nutter apparently removed former Gaming Control Board chairman and current Cozen O’Connor President Tad Decker from co-hosting a fundraising event scheduled for today.

According to a press release sent out by a representative of Casino Free Philadelphia, when anti-casino activists heard that Decker’s name was listed as a co-host for an event at the Philadelphia Country Club they immediately questioned Nutter’s campaign on what they said was an about-face.Nutter had been in support of a ballot referendum in the city that would have likely kept casinos from being built within 1,500 feet of residential and educational grounds, the release said.

Two women who belong to Mothers Against SugarHouse (MASH) wrote letters to Nutter seeking an explanation of his support of Decker and asked that he not accept any contributions from him.

“Mr. Tad Decker is not a member of any host committee for any Nutter for Mayor fundraisers,” Nutter’s campaign responded in a statement. “When we learned that his name had been added to a host committee by a few supporters, Michael asked that he be removed, and he was.”

Nutter’s campaign confirmed that the statement was accurate.

The event, which allows for a $500 friend donation or a $1,000 benefactor donation, was co-chaired by Tony Hayden Sr., Bernie Halfpenny, Jim Maguire and Cozen O’Connor vice chairman Patrick O’Connor, according to the flyer. Decker’s name was also listed as a co-chairman.

— Gina Passarella, Staff Reporter

Government activists hope that voter ire over elected officials’ 2005 pay raise will rekindle in 2007.

September 18, 2007

Russ Diamond, chair of the PACleanSweep political action committee, and an estimated group of 40 gathered at the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg Thursday. They called for Pennsylvania voters to expand beyond the unprecedented rejection of a Supreme Court Justice in 2005 to reject every single judge facing retention in the commonwealth during autumn’s election.

A total of 67 judges – Supreme Court Justice Thomas G. Saylor, three Superior Court judges, three Commonwealth Court judges, 53 Common Pleas Court judges and seven Philadelphia municipal and traffic judges – are up for retention Nov. 6.

It is crucial for all Pennsylvania judges who accepted the 2005 pay raise to be rejected by voters because of the questionability of that decision, Diamond said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon. Diamond criticized the Supreme Court’s 2006 decision upholding pay raises for judges following their repeal by the legislature and criticized the 2007 decision prohibiting Philadelphia voters from voting on restrictive casino-siting question.

“Our group is really centered on allegiance to the Constitution. The courts have really strayed from that,” Diamond said. “Even the Superior and the Commonwealth courts are making law in their decisions.”

Leaders of the Pennsylvania Bar Association and the Philadelphia Bar Association, released statements Thursday criticizing a call for a whole-scale rejection of every judge up for retention in Pennsylvania.

Andrew Susko, president of the state bar association, said such a radical move would create chaos in the courts and that each judge should be critiqued on their individual merits and full judicial records.

“The public should reject this misguided effort to gut our justice system and throw away hundreds of years of judicial experience,” Susko said in a statement. “Pennsylvania’s voters should judge the judges fairly, based on their record of judicial service and their qualifications and fitness to serve. Merit retention is our state’s nonpartisan system for the voting public to pass on a judge’s service and qualifications by a yes-or-no vote.”

Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Jane Dalton’s statement reiterated the bar association’s position that a high-quality bench requires “proper compensation.” Dalton also said that it would undermine the judicial process to reject every single judge on the sole issue of the 2005 pay raise.

“Issuing a mass indictment of judges is a dangerous mentality with tyrannical overtones.  A judge does not and must not answer to the popular will of the people.  A judge must only answer to the law, the facts and reason,” Dalton’s statement said.

Both bars suggested using their respective judicial commissions to obtain information on the qualification of judges.

PACleanSweep was formed in July 2005 at the time of pay raise and has an e-mail subscription list of 5,500, Diamond said. He said the group is nonpartisan and full of strict constructionists who believe the Constitution “is the ultimate will of the people.”

Former state Supreme Court Justice Russell Nigro was the very first Supreme Court justice defeated in his bid for retention. Former state Supreme Court Justice Sandra Schultz Newman’s retention on the bench was much narrower than normal for judicial retentions.

Seven state appellate court judges are scheduled to face retention elections in November: Saylor; in the Superior Court, Judges Correale F. Stevens, Joan Orie Melvin and John L. Musmano; and in the Commonwealth Court, President Judge Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter and Judges Doris A. Smith-Ribner and Bernard L. McGinley.

Diamond promises Thursday’s announcement won’t be one-time flash in the pan for his PAC’s activity. Over the next seven weeks, PACleanSweep will be releasing, one by one, top 10 reasons to reject all of the judges on the ballot for retention.

Amaris Elliott-Engel, Staff Reporter

Cappy’s Replacement…And Other Thoughts

September 12, 2007

The first question on many people’s minds when they heard Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ralph Cappy was stepping down was: who will replace him?

Actually, the real first question I had a lot of people ask was “Why?” (more on that later), but Cappy’s replacement was a close second.

One name that immediately came to mind was Philadelphia Common Pleas President Judge C. Darnell Jones II. He’s got a good reputation and is well-liked and respected, and Gov. Ed Rendell made no secret this past year of wanting to see him on the court. Jones told me in an email yesterday that he hadn’t been contacted by anyone from Rendell’s office about possibly filling the position.

Of course for someone like Jones, it would be a trade-off. Any appointment would be interim until Cappy’s seat would be up in 2009. Jones, who lost in the Democratic Primary in May running for Supreme Court, would have to weigh being on the court for two years only, versus the gamble of running in 2009 for a 10-year term.

The more probable scenario, according to the people reporter Peter Hall is talking to, is that Rendell would re-appoint current interim Justice Cynthia A. Baldwin to stay on the court and serve out the rest of Cappy’s term.

The move makes a lot of sense. Given all the turnover the court has experienced in the last two years, it would help preserve some continuity. It would also save time and money, because Baldwin has her office already set up and clerks working for her. A new nominee would probably take longer to get confirmed as well.

But as with most things in Pennsylvania politics, you never know for sure until it happens.

Now, as for why Cappy is leaving…right now there are plenty of theories.

By all accounts, Cappy loved being chief justice. He was certainly the strongest and most prominent chief in my 14 years of covering the court, and he clearly relished the role. Knowing that, it’s hard not to speculate.

It does sound from Cappy’s statement that he did a bit of soul-searching after his hip replacement surgery. If you’ve ever been laid up after a serious orthopedic operation – and I know because I’ve had multiple operations on my knees and shoulders — you know that you have a lot of time to reflect and put things in perspective. I have no doubt he might have just decided that he was ready for something new.

But again, given his love for the job, and in light of what he’s gone through the past two years, it does make people wonder.

One attorney in Pittsburgh, looking at the timing of Cappy’s announcement, wondered if perhaps Cappy was “taking one for the team” and announcing his decision to leave now in order to possibly defuse public anger toward the court and help people like Justice Thomas Saylor, who is up for retention in November.

The speculation for the past several months had been that Cappy wasn’t sure about running for retention in 2009 given all the fallout from the pay raise fiasco.

Cappy was very direct in his statement that the controversy had nothing to do with his decision.

However, a number of comments I’ve heard over the past year from various members of the legal community suggested that plenty of people thought the fallout from the pay raise had taken its toll on him.

When I heard the news, I was surprised about the timing. I didn’t necessarily think the flak from the pay raise was the reason. After all, Cappy had already weathered the worst of it. And when he hosted a gathering of judges and journalists in Hershey last December, he was upbeat, confident, and charming, apparently ready to move on with the court’s future.

What struck me though was that Cappy’s announcement came roughly two months after the Legislature passed a bill that severed the link between state and federal judicial compensation, which by all accounts was the biggest change Cappy had been seeking.

It was that link, more than anything, that led a lot of people to support the judicial raise. It was seen as a measure that would remove the cloud of politics that had shadowed discussions about judicial pay.

Even after the pay-raise debacle and the outcry over the Supreme Court’s decision to give the judges back the raise, a number of people in the legal community told me they thought the fallout was worth it, simply because now the judges wouldn’t have to go back to the Legislature asking for money.

In light of the Legislature wiping out that victory, I wonder if Cappy had decided he’d had enough. Right or wrong, he was a leader on the issue, risking nearly all his political capital in the process to get what he thought was best for his judges and the court system. What he worked so hard for has been wiped out.

Cappy wasn’t doing any interviews yesterday, but that’s the question I would ask him, regardless of his public statement: was the severing of the link with federal judicial pay the last straw?

Cappy has served the public for a long time, and he’s entitled to whatever future opportunities he wants to pursue. But I don’t think his leaving is a good thing for the court.

It’s nothing against Justice Ronald Castille. I just think the court, in a very practical way, was much improved under Cappy.

When I covered my first Supreme Court arguments back in the early 1990s, I was appalled. The first three cases were death penalty cases. I remember justices moving around, talking. They didn’t seem to be paying attention and I don’t remember anyone asking any questions. When it came time for them to hear the case I was specifically there to cover, it was evident to me within a few minutes that virtually none of them knew what the case was about or had even read the first few pages of either party’s brief.

Under Cappy the court always seemed well-prepared for oral arguments. Cappy would often announce what the central issue was in each case, then tell the lawyers what points the court was most interested in hearing about. As a reporter it made things easier to cover, but it also made the arguments run smoothly, crisp, and to the point.

I’m also sad to see Cappy go because I think, for all the grief he took, he learned a valuable lesson about dealing with the public. Courts need to be above popular votes and public influence, but there is much to be gained when judges are more accessible to the public and understanding of the public’s concerns. I had the sense that Cappy’s experience following the pay raise had put him more solidly on that path.

–Hank Grezlak, Editor-in-Chief

Duane Morris Expands in New York

September 7, 2007

Duane Morris grabbed a total of six attorneys from three different firms to add to its New York office.

Firm Chairman Sheldon Bonovitz said the acquisitions “represent another step in our commitment to growth in New York and in our plans to grow internationally.”

Three corporate attorneys with international focuses joined from Bryan Cave.

Miriam Hyman, who joined Duane Morris as a partner, focuses her practice on banking and business and public finance. She represents Latin American banks, financial institutions, businesses and high-net-worth individuals operating in the United States and overseas.

Andrew Odell joined as a partner and will work on the representation of foreign corporations in commercial matters, investments and the resolution of disputes in cross-border negotiations.

Michael Butterman counsels U.S. and Latin American clients throughout Latin America. He joined the firm as of counsel.

Joining as partners from Arent Fox were Lee Potter and Eberhard Röhm. Potter focuses on mergers and acquisitions, private equity and debt securities offerings, restructurings, bank credit facilities and general corporate advisory matters.

Röhm handles international transactional matters with Germany, other European Union countries and the United States.

Arthur Dresner joined Duane Morris as of counsel from Reed Smith. He will serve in the firm’s intellectual property practice group. Dresner’s practice is in the areas of patent litigation, licensing and transactional work. He also handles product clearance reviews and opinions, arbitration, control procedures, patent acquisition and trademarks and copyrights.

— Gina Passarella, Staff Reporter