Local Elections Matter

Court Gavel

In Pennsylvania, we elect our judges. This can be a good thing, or it can be a bad thing. One of the biggest issues is the fact that even the most informed voters often know nothing about the judges on the ballot before them. Add to that the fact that these judges are elected in off-year elections with very low turnout, and it’s both an opportunity and an uphill battle if you want to see meaningful change in the justice system.

Consider the case in Erie right now. Erie 4th Ward District Judge Tom Robie isn’t on the ballot again until 2015. He last won in an unchallenged race in 2009 with the support of both parties from the looks of one of the election results pages I found. Unfortunately for the citizens of Erie, that may not be such a good thing if Judge Robie’s reported actions in a recent gun possession case are any indication.

Pennsylvania has a pretty clear preemption law that doesn’t allow local governments to regulate possession of firearms by law-abiding citizens. The City of Erie violated the ban and passed their own ban on possession in city-owned parks. Several men were cited in violation of this illegal ordinance. And, according to social media posts by those involved in the case, the judge decided to find them guilty of violating the illegal ordinance anyway, despite the case law on the subject. I haven’t found a news story about the decision yet, but here is one with better background on the case.

For purposes of legal action, these guys can clearly appeal and hope that, at some level, they get a judge who cares about actually making sure that the laws are followed by both the government agents and citizens. However, even if that happens, the judge who ignored the case law on the issue gets to enjoy the perks of his taxpayer-funded job with few people caring that his cases may end up overturned because he appears to have opted to ignore the state’s preemption law and related established case law.

For election purposes, this is a great opportunity for local gun owners to get involved with local parties and start finding a replacement for Judge Robie on the next ballot. They can find him a primary challenger from either side. So, will local gun owners pick up this cause? It’s a long way to 2015, but since they need to find a candidate willing to take on this judge, the process needs to start early. But, if local gun owners would be willing to take up this cause, then it can send a clear message to many more local politicians – judicial or otherwise.

17 thoughts on “Local Elections Matter”

  1. I do not understand the city’s disconnect from the ordnance being a regulation about firearms, rather, an ordnance controlling behavior.
    “the city ordinance seeks not to regulate guns but to control a person’s conduct with weapons. The city felt it best to bar guns and other weapons from parks –”
    The same statement has been used at least three times leading up to this hearing by three different attorneys affiliated with the city.

    1. It’s simple lawyer weasel-speak. They know they can’t regulate guns due to pre-emption, so they make up some lame excuse to ban guns where they can’t by calling it something else. And they’ve gotten a judge to go along; make no mistake, I’d bet my next check that the judge is in on the game, and was from the start.

      They know it’s illegal, and they don’t care; they’re betting that people will simply comply to avoid the hassle of trial and appeal. They also know they will likely lose on appeal, but they don’t care about that either. It’s ideology over law.

      Both the judge and the prosecutors are acting unethically; consider filing a complaint to the appropriate disciplinary administrator for violations of the ethical code. That may get their attention faster than the appellate courts (assuming someone at the disciplinary administrator’s officer understands the law).

      1. Judges have absolute immunity in PA. So you can complain all you want to the AOPC, it will go nowhere unless you can prove the judge was doing something illegal. Furthermore, you can’t disbar someone who is not a member of the bar. Most MDJ’s in PA are not attorneys and are not member of the bar. It’s rare that an MDJ is disciplined or removed – very rare.

        Nothing that was done in these cases is going to go anywhere with a complaint.

        What will happen is the case will be overturned by the court of common pleas and the MDJs will really have no choice but to honor that case law. Then it will be OC fest in Erie.

          1. No, there actually isn’t. I’d love for you to show me the PA Statute that says a judge can be removed for a bad ruling – there isn’t one. You can’t sue a judge either. They have absolute immunity for their actions on the bench.

              1. It’s also why we have elections. The law has always been open to judicial interpretation. MDJ rulings are often overturned on appeal. A real common pleas judge does not like being overturned on appeal. This guys had to know that the fight would have to be a long fight and that was what they were signing up for. On the bright side, their win on appeal will make some decent case law that can be used as a defense should Erie issue any more citations.

  2. The SAF should be made aware of this case if they aren’t already. They have a campaign going to get laws in violation of preemption repealed, which has seen some success already. Usually it’s just taken a letter explaining the situation and their willingness to follow through with legal action if necessary. In this case, I’m sure these guys would appreciate the support.

  3. I think you’re talking two different things here. We do elect common pleas judges and district judges but there is a big difference between the two. Common pleas judges are elected to a 10 year term and only have to stand for a retention vote. Common pleas judges must be lawyers and members of the state bar. District judges are elected to a 6 year term. They are not required to be an attorney – they only have to be a registered voter. District judges only have the ability to pronounce sentence in summary matters and those can be appealed to the court of common pleas where you’ll get a real judge. Most district judges are not all that bright and their rulings are often over turned at the common pleas level.

    Also, both common pleas and district judges can and do cross file for elections so they run as both a democrat and republican. There are only two offices in PA that all for cross filing. Common pleas/district judges and school directors.

    1. So is he not up in 2015? I may have gotten mixed up, but I found him on the ballot for 2009, and then he’s listed as being up again in 2015. Those are competitive elections, are they not? Those were not listed as retention elections in the pages I looked at, but maybe they were poorly formatted and I mixed it up.

      Regardless of the guy’s qualifications, voters can vote him out. That’s the point here.

      I’m assuming you mean something specific and different on cross filing than for running as the candidate from both parties. Because I know we have way more candidates make a run for getting the nomination during primary season from both parties so they are the only one on the ballot come November than just judges and school directors.

      1. Then he is an MDJ and not really a real judge. MDJ’s are the lower courts and they are not lawyers. Also common pleas judges are elected in an AOPC defined judicial district. There are 65 judicial district in two cases the really small counties are combined into one district. All the other districts are defined by the county boundaries.

        There are only two/three offices where a candidate can cross file and be on the ballot under both parties. MDJ’s, Common Pleas Judges, and school directors. That’s it. There is nothing stopping a candidate from running a write in campaign, on the opposing ticket, during the primary. You can’t cross file for any other elected office other than the two judicial offices and school director I mentioned.

        I’ve spent 14 years working in this screwed up system (23rd judicial district), have run for MDJ and currently hold an elected office that expires in 2015.

        I can’t add the links here, your spam filter gets me. If you google Pennsylvania Election Code of 1937 you’ll get all the details on elections and cross filing.

        1. Dave, and Bitter —

          This MDJ is an interesting position, some states have something similar they call a Clerk Magistrate and he or she handles citations — up to noncriminal/ nonarrest moving violations. I am neither a lawyer nor a Pennsylvanian so it’s interesting to me. (You obviously don’t want criminal courts full of baby rapers and axe murderers to waste their time on code enforcement and rolled stop signs… you also can’t expect this level of judge to be a constitutional expert, they’re mostly going to be low level political characters).

          That said, Robie is a Magistrate District Judge (MDJ) as Dave surmised. Let’s see if I’m any luckier with a link:


          I’m not from PA but check your blog daily. We must all hang together, as a famous Pennsylvanian once said, or we know what happens.

          1. Actually those baby rapers will have bail set by an MDJ as well as having a preliminary hearing at the MDJ. Now, most of those hearings are waived, but still the cases start at the MDJ level before being transferred to the court of common pleas.

  4. I just read Heinlein’s “Take Back Your Government.” It lays out a pretty straightforward plan of building a local political organization, selecting a candidate, and running a primary (or general).

    The problem is that it is an enormous amount of effort. It would be close to a full time job for the candidate and a half-time job for the campaign manager (i.e. you).

    It is easy to say “vote them out!” but without someone stepping up to actually run a challenger’s campaign there may not be anyone viable on the ballot.

    1. I can tell you, from being a candidate for MDJ, it’s a full time job. The district I was running in covered more than 30sq mi and had more than 34,000 registered voters. Now, in a municipal primary only about 10% will show up to vote. So I used the elections office supplied voter database to query the most likely voters and target them. I knocked on more than 3600 doors, sent thousands of mailers, and gave a way of ton of promotional items. Then I had to round up 23 election day helpers to work the polls for me. It’s a giant task to run for office. It’s a nearly impossible task to unseat an incumbent MDJ. MDJ’s don’t raise taxes and they generally keep a low profile. Voters are all too willing to keep voting for the same people over and over. This one case by this Erie MDJ is going to enrage the voting public enough to toss him from office.

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