- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Editorials from around Pennsylvania

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THE STAGGERING COST OF JUSTICE

The costs associated with Eric Frein’s alleged ambush on Sept. 12 that left one state trooper dead and another seriously wounded have only begun to pile up, but already they can be counted in the millions of dollars.

Start with the estimated $10 million or so spent by law enforcement agencies in their seven-week search for Frein in the rugged country of northeastern Pennsylvania. For 48 days, Frein played cat and mouse with hundreds of police and U.S. marshals until being apprehended last Thursday without incident.



He is being held without bail under maximum security with around-the-clock surveillance at the Pike County Correctional Facility. He figures to be spending a lot of time there as he awaits trial. Taxpayers will foot the bill.

Because he’s been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Cpl. Bryon Dickson and faces the death penalty if convicted, Frein qualifies for not one but two court-appointed attorneys. And he’s not getting some first-year public defenders. Frein’s legal team will be made up of Robert Bernathy and Michael Weinstein, who together have decades of murder trial experience. Bernathy is Pike County’s part-time chief public defender. Weinstein has both prosecuted and defended death penalty cases. Weinstein, we’re told, will be paid $178 an hour. Do the math.

Pike County itself will spend at least a half-million dollars bringing Frein to trial, according to Thomas Mincer, a former assistant public defender and longtime county defense attorney. That would be a lot for any county. But Pike County has a population of just over 57,000 (2010 census). It has a one-courtroom courthouse and only two judges and will likely have to ask the state to assign a judge for the case. Jurors could be imported from outside the county, or the trial could be moved, but Mincer, quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer, said, “Any way you look at it, it’s going to end up costing Pike County at least $500,000. It’s going to be a real budget-buster.”

If Frein is found guilty, a death sentence could trigger an endless string of expensive appeals. A life sentence might mean Frein, only 31, becomes a financial liability to the commonwealth prison system for decades.

Up till now, we’ve only spoken in monetary terms. The mental and emotional toll Eric Frein has taken on the family and friends of the dead officer and on the residents in and around the search area who lived in fear and whose lives were altered for seven weeks can never be calculated. That is by far the greater cost and one that no court can ever adequately address.

- The (Doylestown) Intelligencer

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BENCHING THE JUDICIARY

Life expectancy has steadily increased from one generation to the next. Now, 70 is the new 50.

Many people have postponed their retirements, deciding to stay in the workforce for a few more years.

Many say they need the paycheck, health care or other benefits. Others just crave the social interaction.

Pennsylvania’s judges say that staying in the workplace should apply to them, too.

Currently, there are three amendments to the state constitution that have been proposed regarding the ages at which judges must retire.

By law, jurists at the district magisterial level, Court of Common Pleas, Commonwealth, Superior and Supreme levels must step down at the end of the year in which they reach 70 years of age.

Once retired, judges have the option of returning to the bench as senior jurists, but they must silence their gavels for good when they turn 78.

An initiative is calling for an amendment to the constitution to give judges five more years behind the bench, pushing mandatory retirement to 75.

G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics nd Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, said he believes the public would back such a measure.

“I would think there would be support for it,” he said. “I would think if it were put on as a referendum, it would pass,” he told our Kathy Mellott.

“The mean age is now over 80, and people are working well into their 70s,” he said.

The issue, if approved, would have an immediate impact in Cambria County.

President Judge Timothy Creany recently celebrated his 69th birthday. If he were forced to retire when he reaches 70, there would be eight years remaining on his term.

Creany and about a dozen more Court of Common Pleas judges are facing aging-out if the constitution is not changed.

“I love the job I’m doing,” Creany said. “If the amendment would pass, I would stay until I’m 75. I would have a long enough term.”

Added Judge Patrick Kiniry: “Seventy is too young to give away all of that experience and knowledge.”

But Judge Norman Krumenacker disagreed, saying that keeping judges on the bench too long can stymie change and inhibit new ideas.

“I think we should have turnover, bring in new blood.”

Pennsylvania is one of 16 states studying mandatory judicial retirement. Most states favor the 70-75 age range, but Vermont voters approved increasing the mandatory retirement age to 90.

We don’t know if we’re ready to support that drastic an age swing. Judges that old may develop what Krumenacker termed “grouchy old man” attitude.

Amending the constitution is a complex process.

An amendment must be approved in two consecu-tive terms of the Legislature and then it goes to the voters.

Earlier this year, the House and Senate approved a first vote on the initiative.

A second vote likely would come in early 2015, after the lawmakers elected Nov. 4 are sworn in. If the Legislature approved the amendment a second time, there would be a 90-day public review.

It is unlikely the amendment would make it to the May primary ballot.

The jury is still out regarding what benefit the measure would provide the state.

Proponents believe that allowing judges to stay longer would eliminate the need for senior judges, resulting in a savings to the state’s pension fund.

Suzanne Almeida, program director for the nonpartisan and nonprofit Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said that theory has not been proven.

“It may be a wash,” she said.

We understand Krumenacker’s and Kiniry’s opinions. It would be difficult to lose decades of experience and knowledge. But, younger judges may provide fresh perspectives.

In the end, it’s probably a matter best left to the voters.

- The (Johnstown) Tribune-Democrat

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ELECTED OFFICIALS SHOULD CHAMPION EARLY EDUCATION

After the winners in the Pennsylvania governor and state legislative races are done celebrating tonight, we urge them to look ahead to plan a brighter future for our state’s youngest residents.

In the view of business executives, educators and a bipartisan group of political leaders, that future for 3- and 4-year-olds should include universal access to high-quality early childhood education programs.

The importance of high-quality preschool programs was demonstrated in a big way Thursday, when PNC Bank’s Grow Up Great program set a Guinness Book of Records mark for the largest simultaneous vocabulary lesson.

Preschoolers from the St. Benedict Education Center and the Boys and Girls Club of Erie helped to set that record as they listened to St. Benedict teacher Jennifer Robinson read “Mr. Tiger Goes Wild” aloud at the Experience Children’s Museum. More than 4,000 children in 37 cities, including Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Fort Wayne, Ind., Grand Rapids, Mich., and Washington, D.C., took part in the vocabulary lesson.

“Statistics show that the earlier you can introduce children to structured learning, the more successful they’ll be later in life,” said Vickie Lampe, PNC Bank’s director of client and community relations for northwestern Pennsylvania. “Vocabulary is central to a child’s development,” added Eva Tansky Blum, president of the PNC Foundation.

Blum’s message is similar to one delivered in June by two former Pennsylvania governors, Democrat Ed Rendell and Republican Mark Schweiker, at a Pre-K for PA rally hosted by the United Way of Erie County and sponsored by the Erie Community Foundation. “From lower dropout and crime rates to stronger communities and businesses, the reasons to expand access are mounting,” Rendell said. “This is not just an education issue - this is an economic issue,” said Schweiker.

Nick Scott Jr., vice president of Scott Enterprises, and lawyer Ronald DiNicola are co-chairing the Pre-K for PA NWPA Campaign because they know that quality programs prepare children to succeed in kindergarten and then in elementary school. They also stressed that research shows that investing in pre-K has long-term economic benefits. Young people develop the skills they need to find jobs and that, in turns, reduces costs for social service programs as well as prison.

The Pre-K for PA NWPA campaign is one of five across the state urging Pennsylvania lawmakers to support universal access to early childhood education, according to Kate Philips, the campaign’s communications coordinator, who is based in Erie.

Pre-K for PA, funded by the William Penn Foundation, supports universal access, but “mixed delivery,” she said. Programs would not have to be in public schools, and enrollment would be voluntary. For example, the Erie Future Fund provides scholarships for preschoolers, but more than 4,000 Erie County youngsters - about 62 percent - do not yet enjoy such access.

To learn more, visit www.prekforpa.org. And remember to vote today. Our kids’ future depends on it.

- Erie Times-News

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FINAL FRONTIER STILL DANGEROUS

Two incidents last week demonstrated that the transition of space travel from the government to the private sector will not be free of the risk and extreme danger inherent in the audacious act of rocketing off the planet.

Early in the week, an Orbital Science Corp. commercial supply rocket that was to carry supplies to the International Space Station crashed and exploded moments after lifting off from a NASA facility at Wallops Island, Virginia. The craft was unmanned and no one was hurt, but the $200 million-plus mission was a total loss.

The blast not only incinerated the cargo - 2½ tons of space station food, clothes, equipment and science experiments dreamed up by schoolchildren - but dealt a setback to the commercial spaceflight effort championed by NASA and the White House even before the shuttle was retired.

Friday, a Virgin Galactic spacecraft crashed during a test flight over California, killing one pilot and injuring another. The craft was designed to carry wealthy “tourists” into space - an idea whose time has not come.

Extraordinary achievements have given rise to the notion that space exploration and exploitation will be routine. These events demonstrate the opposite, and call for appropriate cautious policy.

-(Pottsville) Republican-Herald

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SUPPER TABLE OFFERED HUMOR, AMUSEMENT

Many of us are accustomed to spending our Sunday mornings and afternoons perusing the newspaper, expanded that day to include more feature articles, advertisements, comics, puzzles and other amusements. A century ago, this leisure activity came a day earlier.

In the 1890s, The Daily Reporter published twice as many pages on Saturday (although on smaller-size paper),which included the latest installment of a serialized novel. The newspaper was in competition for readers’ attention that day with the Saturday Evening Supper Table, which sold for three cents a copy.

The Supper Table began publishing in 1885 and was much lighter reading that the two large dailies in Washington: The Daily Reporter and The Washington Observer. While the dailies would cram 20 to 30 stories of local, national and international importance on their front pages, the Supper Table might be content to reserve its cover for a feature about a bicycle racer. Publishers James Allen and Fred Wilson preferred to fill pages with poetry, fiction and, most of all, humor. A tabloid, it ran columns on art and music as well as one called “Gossip.”

The daily newspapers rarely deviated from their serious demeanors, but the Supper Table was quite opposite. Instead of editorials on national politics and international economics, it poked fun at local politicians in editorials dripping with sarcasm.

Some of those editorials are insightful to the concerns of the day. Following is part of one from Nov. 24, 1894, titled, “Hello! Council!”

“The attention of the city council is respectfully called to the fact that a telephone is badly needed in the police ‘station.’ This matter has been neglected too long. There ought to have been telephone connection with police headquarters long ago.

“… Council ought to remember that policemen, like common people, need exercise and amusement and they ought to have a telephone even though they never made any use of it save to ring the bell occasionally, ‘just for fun,’ as it were. Then there is another consideration. People often like to know where the policemen are, not because they want them, of course, for any purpose, but just for the sake of knowing that they are comfortable and safe, especially on cold nights. It would be a great satisfaction, too, in case of a fight, say at the Chartiers depot, for someone down there who takes an interest in the policemen, to telephone them of the fuss so they could keep out of the neighborhood …”

Today, some of us are concerned with the condition of city streets. Some of them have been causing travelers problems for well over a century.

Park Avenue from South Main Street to the city line was the subject of a May 11, 1895, editorial in the Supper Table:

“The part of the street within the borough is only 200 yards in length, yet it has been for years, and is now, in exceedingly bad condition … The portion of the route to which we have referred is much worse, or indeed, we might say, is the only bad piece of street between the town and the cemetery. It is always wet and full of holes and ruts in which the sloppy limestone water stands. The liverymen say this water cuts the paint from the wheels of their vehicles as quickly as a knife would … The expenditure of a few hundred dollars will put it in first class condition and the borough fathers could make no better use of part of the money devoted to improvements this year. The good name of the town demands it as the present condition of the thoroughfare gives many strangers who pass over it an unfavorable impression of the place.”

The same could easily be written today about any number of Washington’s streets.

- (Washington) Observer-Reporter

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