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June 11, 2014

Bar Association Chancellor: Senate Proposal 'An Unacceptable Attack on Pennsylvanians' Access to Justice'

Expressing "deep concern" over proposed legislation that would slash the number of judicial seats on both the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and Superior Court of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor William P. Fedullo called the measure – Senate Bill 324 – "an unacceptable attack on Pennsylvanians' access to justice" that would deal a "huge blow" to a court system that is already one of the nation's busiest.

"The wheels of justice cannot turn if you reduce the number of judges who enable justice to be served," Fedullo said. "If enacted, this bill would not only hurt victims of crime and defendants who are waiting for resolution of their cases, it would also significantly delay the issuance of opinions and the process for appeals."

The Chancellor added that the measure would also be "devastating" to businesses that seek resolution of their disputes here and cause Pennsylvania to lose legal work to other states.

"Such a move would greatly increase the justices' workloads and slow down the judicial process," Fedullo said. "A smaller court size directly impacts everybody, including the nearly 13 million citizens of Pennsylvania who expect justice to be served in a fair and timely manner."

Washington state legislature recently dismissed a bill designed to reduce the size of the state's Supreme Court. Testimony from the related hearing noted that reducing the size of the Supreme Court would delay justice by increasing the workload of each judge; decrease opportunities for diversity within the court; and make it easier for special interests to stack the court with expensive court races. The effort to reduce the Montana Supreme Court from seven to five members resulted in similar findings.

According to a fiscal note prepared on Senate Bill 245, the reduction would mean "a caseload increase of approximately 40 percent per justice. The time to disposition of Supreme Court cases would increase dramatically and cases may not be resolved timely."

Among other proposals, the resolution seeks to amend the state constitution to reduce the number of Supreme Court justices from seven to five and to reduce the number of Superior Court judges from 15 to 11. Superior Court, an intermediate appellate court, hears criminal and civil appeals from the state trial courts. The Supreme Court is the highest arbiter of cases in the state judicial system, and has administrative authority over the entire court system. Pennsylvania's court system processes more than 3.4 million cases per year.

Fedullo called for public hearings on the proposal "so that the citizens of this Commonwealth and other stakeholders have full opportunity to adequately express their concerns over the potential impact of this alarming bill on their right to due process and the timely administration of justice."

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