filed: July 1, 1977.
IN RE PROHIBITION OF POLITICAL ACTIVITIES BY COURT-APPOINTED EMPLOYEES. PETITION OF JOHN M. SILVESTRI, ESQUIRE. PETITION OF GEORGE S. GOBEL, ESQUIRE. PETITION OF MICHAEL KAMINSKI
Eagen, C. J., and O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix, Manderino and Packel, JJ. Manderino, J., filed a concurring opinion.
Author: Per Curiam
[ 473 Pa. Page 557]
We have before us three petitions seeking exemption from directives issued on behalf of this Court which prohibit political activity by certain court-appointed employees.*fn1 Since the petitions, save for one aspect of
[ 473 Pa. Page 558]
that of petitioner Kaminski, raise essentially the same issues, they will be considered together.
On March 3, 1976, the Court Administrator of Pennsylvania, the Honorable Alexander F. Barbieri, sent to all judges and justices of the peace in the Commonwealth a memorandum advising that partisan political activities by persons employed by judges or justices of the peace were improper, and that, unless such activities were terminated within 30 days, the persons must be removed from judicial office.*fn2 This was followed on May 7, 1976
[ 473 Pa. Page 559]
by a supplemental memorandum from the Court Administrator to the president judges of the fifty-nine judicial districts in the Commonwealth which reiterated the purpose and intent of the March 3, 1976 directive.*fn3 On March 18, 1977, the Court Administrator wrote still another memorandum on the subject of political activities of district justices and court personnel.*fn4 This letter was
[ 473 Pa. Page 560]
addressed to all judges and all district justices in Pennsylvania. It said in part:
"This Supplemental Memorandum is a reminder to judges and district justices of the peace that they and their staffs must remain free from any political activity. Persons employed in sensitive positions in the court system must not engage in partisan politics. This would preclude law clerks, court administrators and secretarial employees from being committee-persons, working at the polls or running for public office."
These directives by the Court Administrator relative to court-appointed employees were issued with the knowledge and approval of this Court and correctly state the public policy and general principles involved. Indeed, none of the petitioners challenges the authority of the Administrator's advices or questions the wisdom of the prohibitions therein set forth. The purpose of the memoranda, of course, was to maintain not only the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judicial system but also the appearance of these qualities. The vice of mixing political and judicial activity is too obvious to require elaboration here. Only by a steadfast separation of partisan political activity from the judicial function can the confidence of the public in courts and judges be merited and maintained.
Petitioners allege that they did not become aware of the memorandum above referred to until the week of May 16, 1977, too late to withdraw from the primary election held May 17, 1977. While this is regrettable, it does not relieve them from compliance once they become aware of the directives.
Petitioners Silvestri and Kaminski argue that in running for election to the offices they respectively seek, they are not engaging in political activity because
[ 473 Pa. Page 561]
they were nominated on both major party tickets and are virtually assured of election. We cannot accept this argument; even were a political campaign held to be nonpolitical because no other person has been nominated to office, the argument overlooks the fact that it is the holding of the office as well as the obtaining of it which is interdicted. Nor can we agree with petitioners Gobel and Silvestri that election to the office of school director, because it pertains to public education, is not election to a political office. Thus we conclude that each of the petitioners is covered by the directives in question.
Petitioner Silvestri has advanced constitutional arguments in support of his petition, particularly that the directives of the Court Administrator violate his rights under the First Amendment and under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution of the United States. We have considered these arguments and find them without merit.
Petitioner Kaminski is now and for over two years past has been a member of council in McKees Rocks Borough. It was not the intention of the directives that they should cause the resignation from an elective office of one who was an incumbent of such office prior to the issuance of the directives. We shall therefore grant Kaminski the exemption he has prayed for in that regard, and he may serve out the term of his elected office without resigning as tipstaff. This does not, however, sanction his running for re-election as councilman while retaining his court employment.
The several directives of the Court Administrator prohibiting political activity by court-appointed employees of any court, judge or justice of the peace are hereby reaffirmed, and the petitions before us are denied, except that the petition of Michael Kaminski is granted to the extent that he need not resign his office as borough councilman prior to the expiration of his term.
[ 473 Pa. Page 562]
MANDERINO, Justice, concurring.
I join in the opinion of the Court because no issue is before us concerning the right of a court-appointed employee to run for judicial office, an activity which is not prohibited to judges themselves.