Pa. Supreme Court's chief justice to retire at year's end
By The Associated Press
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- Ralph J. Cappy said today he will step down as chief
justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court at the end of the year. Cappy, 64,
said he is retiring six years before the mandatory retirement age for
Pennsylvania judges because he wants more time to spend with his family and
pursue personal interests.
"It is a decision made for personal reasons and after thoughtful
consideration," he said in a statement.
The justice with the most seniority, Ronald D. Castille, will succeed Cappy
as chief of the seven-member panel. Castille, 63, a Republican former
district attorney of Philadelphia, joined the court in 1994.
Cappy, a Democrat from Pittsburgh, was an Allegheny County judge before
joining the Supreme Court in 1990. He has served as chief justice since Jan.
1, 2003. He became a target of criticism two years ago when he successfully
lobbied the Legislature to raise the pay of the state's judges, and
described public opposition to the new law as "knee jerk."
Cappy unswervingly defended the pay raise, saying it was necessary to
recruit high-quality judges at a time when some newly minted lawyers make as
much, or more money.
Under heavy public pressure, legislators repealed the government pay-raise
law. However, Cappy's court restored the judges' raises, and bred more
resentment in the Legislature by outlawing the practice of "unvouchered
expenses," which let legislators skirt a constitutional ban against midterm
In his statement, he said the pay-raise controversy played no part in his
decision to retire.
When Cappy leaves, Gov. Ed Rendell can appoint a replacement to serve out
the remaining two years of Cappy's term, which expires at the end of 2009.
Under Cappy's leadership, the Supreme Court upheld the 2004 law that
legalized slot-machine gambling in Pennsylvania, despite complaints that the
Legislature violated constitutional provisions designed to foil the
secretive passage of bills that benefit special interests.
In July, Cappy penned decisions turning away challenges to the lucrative
casino licenses awarded under the slots law.
Within weeks of becoming chief justice, Cappy's court moved to address a
growing medical malpractice controversy by requiring attorneys to get a
medical professional to certify the merit of a malpractice complaint.
Cappy's court also established a system to count the number of medical
malpractice cases filed.
His court also advanced the computerization of state court records, and
introduced a new family court program designed to more quickly place abused
and neglected children in permanent homes.
The pay raise was not Cappy's first public imbroglio as a justice. In 1992,
he and another justice, Stephen A. Zappala, voted to reprimand fellow
Justice Rolf Larsen for improperly contacting a judge in a pending case.
Larsen countered by accusing them of misconduct.
Larsen eventually was impeached by the state Senate and removed from office.
A grand jury found no evidence to back up Larsen's accusations.
Copyright 2007 Associated Press
State chief justice Cappy leaving shaky legacy
By Mike Wereschagin
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
The state Supreme Court's chief justice, a former public defender both
admired and vilified for decisions during 18 years on the high court, plans
to retire at the end of the year, he said Tuesday. Ralph J. Cappy, the chief
justice since 2003, said he's stepping down to spend time with his family
and "pursue personal interests."
His advocacy of the controversial 2005 pay raise could dominate his legacy,
observers said. After the Legislature enacted raises for legislators,
cabinet members and judges, Cappy dismissed the public outcry as a
"knee-jerk" reaction, further enraging people. In the next election, fellow
Supreme Court Justice Russell Nigro lost his retention vote. Cappy would
have been up for retention in 2009.
"He did a tremendous amount of good on the court, but his reputation will
always be besmirched by his role in the pay raise debacle," said Bruce
Ledewitz, a Duquesne University Law School professor. "He deserves a better
legacy than he's going to end up with."
Other pay raise foes weren't so forgiving. Deciding to step down "is perhaps
the most judicious decision he's made since the pay raise," said Eric
Epstein, a coordinator of Rock the Capital, a watchdog group.
Cappy said in a statement the pay raise uproar "played no part in this
decision." He plans to remain as chairman of the University of Pittsburgh
board of trustees and vice chairman of the University of Pittsburgh Medical
Justice Ronald D. Castille, the next most senior member of the court, will
replace Cappy as chief justice.
With Nigro's loss, the resignations of Cappy and former Justice Sandra
Newman, and an upcoming retention vote for Thomas Saylor, Ledewitz noted
that a majority of the Supreme Court soon could be replaced.
"I feel like an era has passed. The judiciary is going to miss him," said
Superior Court Judge Robert E. Colville, who served as Allegheny County's
district attorney when Cappy led the county's public defenders office.
Cappy made criminal court records available online, revived the judiciary's
annual public accounting and made the judiciary more accessible to
minorities and women, Colville and others said. He mandated continuing
education for judges, Colville said.
"When you take all the politics out of it, he's a good person," Common Pleas
Judge Donna Jo McDaniel said. "He brought the Supreme Court into the 21st
century. He instituted so much computerization."
Rather than fully retire, Cappy, 64, might follow a recent trend among
judges and return to practicing law, Duquesne law professor Kenneth Gormley
"He's at the top of his game, and he's one of the most highly respected
(jurists) in the country," Gormley said.
Mike Wereschagin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7900.
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