The LuLac Edition #1661, June 29th, 2011
PHOTO INDEX: "WRITE ON WEDNESDAY" LOGO.
WRITE ON WEDNESDAY
AND THE BEAT GOES ON
This week we feature an editorial from The Citizen's Voice regarding fees lawyers took for hearings in Luzerne County. Problem is they didn't show for half of them. Solicitor Vito DeLuca brought this to every one's attention. During the last Judicial campaign DeLuca touted the fact that he fought special interests and questionable practices under the dome. This proves he is continuing that fight long after the campaign fires stopped burning.
Business as usual in Luzerne County
Published: June 26, 2011
Sometimes the dysfunction that is the accepted way of doing business at the Luzerne County Courthouse is just astounding.
Consider, for example, the revelation last week that two attorneys who earned $95,000 annually to handle mental-health issues for the county missed more than one-third of the hearings they were paid to attend over the past year.
Attorneys Michael Butera and Edward Ciarimboli say they had to miss those hearings because they were often scheduled at the same time as motions court, which convenes every weekday at the county courthouse from 8:30 to 9:15 a.m.
Quite a conundrum.
Let's try to make this simple:
Butera and Ciarimboli had two jobs.
Job one was to represent the county at hearings held in treatment centers to determine if patients committed involuntarily should remain in treatment. Those hearings were held before a court-appointed mental health officer with a public defender most often representing the patient.
Job two was to file petitions in motions court in cases in which a mental-health officer ruled continued confinement and treatment were warranted.
Yet in the 20 years Butera handled mental-health cases for the county and in the eight years Ciarimboli worked by his side, it apparently never occurred to them to ask the motions court or the mental-health officers to adjust their schedules to resolve the conflict.
We are not experts in the law, but would it have been possible for one attorney to attend the hearings and the other to go to motions court?
Ciarimboli and Butera say they were only a cellphone call away if there were problems at the hearings they missed. That is hardly reassuring.
The wastefulness and inefficiency in the way the county has handled its legal business for decades is amply illustrated by the solution to this scheduling problem announced last week.
When the one-year contracts held by Butera and Ciarimboli expire July 1, the county solicitor's office will hire a full-time solicitor to handle their work at 56 percent of the cost. We assume he or she will find a way to get to hearings and motions court.
In anticipation of the new home-rule form of government that arrives in January, county Solicitor Vito DeLuca is in the process of preparing to expand his office and take over all the legal work now assigned to dozens of private attorneys who have been earning hefty stipends, and in many cases county health care coverage, for part-time work.
January cannot come soon enough.