Ready to Judge?

Section 709 of the City of Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter outlines the oath of office for every elected official and appointee as the following: "I do solemnly swear or affirm that I will support the Constitution of the United States and of this state and the charter of this city and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of office to the best of my ability".

So how do we reconcile the obligations of that oath with the statements of one of the most senior members of Council, soon to be a magisterial judge of the Commonwealth, who said this of a senior citizen tax relief program debated yesterday in Council: "So it’s not in compliance with state law. Big deal…I don’t give a damn if [the tax break] is illegal or unconstitutional if it supports the poor people of the city of Pittsburgh."

Stunning: not only in light of the fact that the member is in direct violation of the oath he vowed to uphold, but for the fact that soon the member will be hearing cases involving "most summary offenses, most preliminary hearings, certain DUI cases, certain third-degree misdemeanors and some ordinance violations, landlord/tenant cases and some general civil claims subject to financial limits" according to one description of the responsibility of a magisterial judge. Imagine if a landlord in the City fails to meet state safety requirements or doesn’t have sprinklers and claims it is because they are too expensive; would that pass muster? Or what if a person down on his luck decided to steal to support his family?

What will be the deciding factor in his rulings: the law and the Constitution, or the financial needs of the parties in front of the bench?