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Big benefits, short days for some Pa. judges

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Your Postmaster: Joseph Darius Jaafari
December 10, 2020
Investigating judges, Wolf & COVID-19, new restrictions coming, overdose deaths rise, and a sexy Colonel Sanders. Happy Thursday, Happy Hanukkah!

Despite earning more than $93,000 a year plus the possibility of a pension and lifetime health benefits — mostly paid by taxpayers — some of Pennsylvania’s elected magisterial district judges enjoy short days and light workloads, a yearlong investigation by Spotlight PA and PennLive found.

Our reporting with PennLive found huge variations in how many days each judge had court proceedings. Ten percent of 466 district judges examined had at least 60 days without scheduled court appearances on their calendars in 2019, above and beyond holidays, weekends, and training days.

Even when district judges had scheduled proceedings, they weren’t always logging eight hours in the courtroom. Some, particularly in rural areas, only heard a handful of matters, while others stacked their schedules in the morning, and their courtrooms frequently went dark after 1 p.m.

Many judges have second jobs outside the courtroom.

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THE CONTEXT: These judges are the gatekeepers of the court system and the most likely to interact with residents. They preside over traffic cases, set bail amounts in criminal cases, and rule on civil disputes, such as home evictions.

State law doesn’t spell out any requirement that district judges, who serve six-year terms, must work a certain number of hours. They are simply directed to devote the time needed “for the prompt and proper disposition of the business of their office.”

Some district judges pushed back and said their workloads consist of more than proceedings. Others shot down that notion, saying they have little work outside the courtroom.

District judges, attorneys, county clerks, academics, and other sources who spoke to Spotlight PA and PennLive said problems with judicial scheduling and workloads at the magisterial district level have been an open secret for years, but that it was taboo to criticize judges or file complaints, citing fear of retaliation.

Learn more about how we reported the story.

"Unless they are going to send the gay flag police after me, I don’t really know what their recourse is going to be."

— Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is continuing to display a pro-cannabis flag off his Capitol balcony and said he will soon add a pro-LGBTQ flag despite a bill that blocked him from doing so

POST IT: Thanks, Shelly H., for this photo of Three Mile Island. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems, or tag us on Instagram at @spotlightpennsylvania.
'FEELING WELL': Gov. Tom Wolf announced Wednesday he had tested positive for COVID-19, though he had no symptoms, Spotlight PA reports. A Capitol source said Wolf and other state officials are considering a ban on indoor dining and the mandatory closures of gyms and casinos as cases surge, though a spokesperson for the governor stressed that no decisions have been made at this time.

IT CONTINUES: President Donald Trump and 17 states are backing Texas' attempt to block Pennsylvania's election results, The Inquirer reports. Experts say there's little chance the U.S. Supreme Court will rule in their favor.

CONTINUED DRUG CRISIS: Overdose deaths are up, and the coronavirus, continued isolation, and economic hardships are partially to blame, the Morning Call reports. Drug overdose “hotspots” were noted in the first six months of this year in Adams, Allegheny, Blair, Centre, Somerset, and York Counties.

POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY: A year-long investigation by Attorney General Josh Shapiro found incidents of racism in New Hanover's police department. As a result, Shapiro's office and the township have reached an agreement on more training for its police force, The Mercury reports. 

HAPPY HANUKKAH! Lighting the Capitol menorah will be a bit different this year, due to coronavirus-related restrictions. PennLive reports that a Harrisburg-based rabbi will light the first candle outdoors, rather than inside, without the dancing and other traditional events that usually accompany the first night of Hanukkah. 
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Contribute $15/month or $180/year and get this exclusive tote bag. Thanks to Dave & Kathy M., Deborah D., and Lawrence B. for claiming totes yesterday.
PANDEMIC LOVE IS LOVE: Six queer couples got the chance to say "I do" at a pop-up wedding event at Pomme, a posh catering venue in Philadelphia. The event was marketed toward LGBTQ+ couples, as the U.S. Supreme Court weighs cases that could chip away at same-sex marriage rights in the future. 

TIKTOK FASHIONISTA: Thanks to some viral TikToks, a 23-year-old Lebanon County woman has seen her western boho fashion business explode. Here's one video — on how to rock a sweet scarf — that propelled her business into the spotlight. 

HOLIDAY LIGHT HUNT: Looking for a fun way to get outdoors, be socially distant, and still revel in the holidays? A Philadelphia man created an app called ChristmasPrism that lets you find out which houses near the city have holiday lights up.

THOSE THIGHS, THO: If you have no plans on Sunday at noon, tune in to Lifetime to see the premiere of the KFC-sponsored movie "A Recipe For Seduction." It looks like it'll have everything: romance, Mario Lopez as a sexy Colonel Sanders, and overdramatic acting. My money is on it being a murder mystery over the colonel's 11 herbs and spices recipe. 

CHEER-PRENEUR: While pursuing an MBA at Carnegie Mellon University, Asha Banks founded CheerNotes, an online card company that aims to sell inclusive card designs with authentic expressions. The Harrisburg native connects with talented artists around the world to produce cards that embrace the differences in our world. Check them out — they are very cool.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out the winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag. Love the scrambler? Make a donation to help us end 2020 strong.
Yesterday's answer: Clandestine

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Jeffery S., Kim C., David I., Gail H., Lynne E., Irene R., John C., Tracey C., George S., Mary Ellen T., Jarrod B., Carol D., Ron P., Dianne K., Joel S, David W. Chris W., and Rosanna B. 
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