State Of The Court
It is my pleasure to present this report on the state of the court. I hope it helps inform the public of the important role of the court and the work it does. Among all the courts, this court is one of the busiest, with thousands of new cases filed annually. Every day, dozens of people bring a vast variety of cases, all of which are important, sometimes even distressing. I have worked to make the court a sanctuary, where the public can resolve disputes in a peaceful forum, a temple of law, where the rule of law prevails, a cathedral of justice, where each case is decided on its own merits, regardless of one's rank or station in life. I am pleased to report, ladies and gentlemen, that the court is dynamic, has momentum, and is moving forward with vitality, and that the state of our magisterial district court is strong.
I shall highlight developments over the last six years in a few major areas, court physical facilities, administration, and operations, including a discussion of various sorts of cases.
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I moved the court to its new location in the Smithfield township building, which reduced operating costs while affording a decorum more suitable to a court. I've opposed an effort to create a central court in Stroudsburg, which would have required our residents to travel there for criminal cases and which would have lowered the quality of justice. I've used a new video link to the jail to conduct arraignments.
I've implemented policies to make the court more open, transparent, and accessible. I've docketed cases promptly and instituted policies that limit continuances. I've used staggered scheduling times to avoid logjams, block scheduling and default scheduling for some cases, and scheduled bench time five days a week and, if need be, I've stayed late to hear cases. I've complied with all right to know requests, from individuals and the press alike.
I've ensured that the court is accountable. I've brought the court in compliance with all auditor general requirements. I've monitored the court's case management reports and financial management reports on a monthly basis. I've ensured the court's return of warrants is current. I've ensured, as well, that the court's disbursement of funds is up to date. I am attempting to acquire chip-reading credit card machines in the courts to make the court experience easier.
I've instituted measures to make the court more efficient. I've created standard forms to assist the public in making requests. I've overseen implementation of efiling, by which law enforcement officers file citations electronically. I've launched a scanning initiative that will allow the court to go paperless. It is the goal of the Pennsylvania courts to develop a uniform statewide electronic filing and retrieval system so that people and their lawyers can file and access data easily. I've directed the staff in end of year archive events during which the court destroys case files that have been retained for the required time period. I've also supervised training of staff in an updated judicial software program and other duties.
I've heard, over the last twelve years, a total of some fifty thousand cases, one of the largest caseloads among the county's magisterial district courts. In 2015, for example, in our magisterial district court, there were 53 arrest warrants, 465 criminal cases, 360 non-traffic citation cases, 3,377 traffic cases, 359 civil cases, 149 landlord-tenant cases, and 3 emergency protection from abuse orders. In addition, I've covered cases as on-call judge as well.
I note that I've worked with servers to ensure service of process is peaceful and professional. I've assigned service of civil complaints to an outstanding constable who treats citizens involved in these cases with the utmost of respect. I've assigned service of misdemeanor and felony warrants to the Pennsylvania State Police or, in some cases, the Sheriff's deputies. I've used the deputies for certain landlord-tenant service of process.
A. Criminal Cases.
I've been tough on serious crime, especially violent crime. I've issued bench warrants for failure to appear. I've held full preliminary hearings, applied the rules of evidence in a common sense manner, and sent cases in to common pleas court for a jury trial. I've held full, thorough bail hearings, determined if there was danger to the public, and set bail to ensure the public is safe. I've been one of the first judges to be proactive and set high bail in heroin cases in an effort to combat the opioid crisis in our area. I am, as a member of the county criminal justice advisory board, examining the value of a pre-trial services program, which might offer increased supervision of those at liberty on bail.
B. Citation Cases.
I've taken, in citation cases, a collaborative approach. I've often heard comments indicating distrust, cynicism, and despair, that people "can't fight city hall," and that no one will even listen, least of all a judge. I've guaranteed them this – that I will listen, that I believe, as the ancient Roman maxim states, "no man is wise enough by himself," and that I can learn as much from them as they can from me.
I've accepted agreements. I've set a tone in court that invites parties to compromise, encouraging law enforcement officers, to, in appropriate circumstances, negotiate citations. I've honored legitimate requests to continue, and I've sometimes imposed accelerated rehabilitative disposition, to afford the defendant a chance to remit restitution, engage in anger management or other counseling, or undergo drug and alcohol treatment.
I've also presided over thousands of trials. I've given each litigant their day in court, letting them speak, listening to them, and taking their concerns to heart. I've ruled in trial against improper evidence, misstatement of law, and unreasonable argument, from wherever it has come, the prosecution or the defense. I've interpreted statute in favor of protecting us against government, especially when it is overreaching. I've acquitted where appropriate.
I've conducted sentencings. I've listened to a lot of people, including people who work hard, people who tell me of economic hardship, people who tell me that, for instance, they don't have the money to fix something on their vehicle, they were stopped, issued several citations, and are looking at hundreds or even thousands of dollars in fines, fees, and costs, money that they don't have and can't pay. I've issued installment payment plans to deserving people.
C. Civil and Landlord-Tenant Cases.
I've heard civil and landlord-tenant cases, including complaints sounding in contract, negligence, and other tort. I've taken an ad hoc approach in these cases, considering all the relevant facts and circumstances, balancing the plaintiff's rights against the defendant's rights. I've docketed these cases expeditiously. I've addressed the "justice gap," i.e. the difference in skill between pro se litigants and opposing lawyers. I've leveled the playing field in such cases by explaining law and procedure. I've heard a large volume of assignment of credit card debt cases and, citing case law, have ruled against the corporations and in favor of the defendants. I've applied, in contract cases, contract law and, as well, quasi-contract doctrine, such as promissory estoppel, detrimental reliance, and quantum meruit, doctrines which are sometimes the only law that effectuates justice.
I note that the appeals from this court are the lowest among the magisterial district courts in the county, a record which I attribute to several factors, among them that I attempt reconciliation between or among the parties, allow people to put on their case, and explain the law and the court's reasoning.
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I am pleased to report that our magisterial district court is strong. I am confident that 2018 and beyond is going to be another period of progress. I come to court every day eager to work, to take on hard problems, to seek excellence. I shall continue to seek excellence, to seek out the views of those I serve, to get their advice about how I can do better, and to reflect constantly on what I can do to make sure I provide excellent customer service and fulfill the court's core mission – to resolve cases in a manner that is prompt, efficient, and, above all else, just. I am grateful for the support of law enforcement, the bar, and, most of all, the people of the district, and I believe that, working together, with vision, thoughtfulness, and perseverance, we can build on this solid foundation and make our magisterial district court even stronger in the future.
I am, with warmest wishes
Very truly yours.