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Election’s over. Real work begins

ANY “CLEANUP” OF the Luzerne County court system won’t end after a single election; the task requires further actions on the part of people ranging from Gov. Ed Rendell to you.

Newcomers William Amesbury and Tina Polachek Gartley, whom voters picked Tuesday to join the Court of Common Pleas, will play a key role, bringing their high energy and high standards to the workplace.

Sitting judges, including recently retained Judge Thomas F. Burke Jr., should ensure that the newly robed ones are warmly welcomed and quickly schooled on the court’s procedures. Next, the full group needs to work in harmony on more reform measures.

Polachek Gartley, for example, proposed while on the campaign trail that a watchdog group be created to check on the county court using statistical reviews. The committee could include members of the Luzerne County Bar Association and the public.

She also suggested the possibility of periodic judicial ethics classes, similar to the refresher courses and training mandated for attorneys.

Luzerne County’s judges should give consideration to these and dozens of other ideas generated by the 17 candidates who vied for a seat on the bench during spring’s primary election. This bright bunch talked about ways to make the court’s operation more transparent and remove unnecessary hurdles for lawyers and other people appearing before a judge. Why not gather all the judicial contenders in a room and seek their input?

One reform that shouldn’t be debated, or delayed, is the random assignment of criminal cases. Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr., who on Tuesday was not retained for a second, 10-year term, had been working on a method to help ensure cases can’t get steered to a particular judge. The prototype was expected to be started next year.

Of course, the judges face a backlog of work unrelated to any reform proposals. That’s an issue that the governor can help to correct. Rendell needs to make rapid appointments to fill vacancies on the bench brought about by the loss of Olszewski, retirements and other circumstances. Until this month, the governor might have been preoccupied with matters such as state budget negotiations and the Philadelphia Phillies’ World Series quest. But his continued failure to act on Luzerne County’s behalf could result in a further logjam of civil cases and prevent the court from addressing its other priorities during this crucial period.

Area residents, meanwhile, can keep pushing for important reforms such as an anti-nepotism hiring policy. Question judges about the court’s progress. Urge Rendell, through letters and e-mails to his office or via your state representative, to make judicial appointments. Follow the news about court developments, such as which people are vying for the court administrator’s job. And study candidates running for county judge posts in coming years.

The county’s damaged court system won’t be fully repaired with the addition of a few new faces; it’s going to require a long process. Be a part of it.

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