This month the court issued 4 precedential opinions and 3 allocatur grants.
On the opinion side, I'm most interested in Jordan, which changes the landscape for certain kinds of elections challenges. Under prior law, candidates wishing to challenge other candidates' as ineligible based on a lack of constitutionally required residency were essentially shut out of court by earlier decisions reasoning that the constitutional requirement was not self-executing, and not authorized by the General Assembly in the Elections Code. Thus, if, say, Candidate A wanted to challenge Candidate B's right to run for state legislator on the ground that Candidate B was not a Pennsylvanian, but actually from New Jersey, Candidate A was right, but there was no procedural mechanism for him to raise his claim. Practically, this meant that Candidate A had to run against Candidate B, and, after losing, bring a claim pursuant to an extraordinary writ in the Supreme Court to roll back the results of the election. Not easy, and certainly not politically popular. After Jordan, Candidate A can now challenge Candidate B before the ballots are printed. Sometimes common sense and the law do align. In the Court's other three cases -- Jones-Williams, Pownall, and Khalil -- the Court is dancing the sidestep, avoiding two difficult constitutional questions involving the conduct of law enforcement officers, and one unseemly one involving the conduct of lawyers. That said, the secondary opinions in each of the cases are worth a look, as they do offer some idea of where the Court was not willing to go, or at least not willing to go just yet.
On the allocatur side, I'm looking to Rizor, which involves the standard for proving ineffective assistance of plea counsel in criminal cases. For the uninitiated, about 95% of criminal cases in Pennsylvania proceed via a guilty plea of some kind, and the process whereby defendants enter pleas makes it extremely difficult to withdraw them. At the time of a plea, a defendant is generally required to tender oral and written guilty plea colloquies agreeing that he knows his rights and waives them, that he is guilty, and that he is satisfied with plea counsel's representation. And although he nominally has the right to assert that he pled guilty because of the ineffective advice of plea counsel, his testimony during the colloquy often estops him from alleging what he needs to allege to make out a claim. And even if his claim is predicated on facts outside the scope of the colloquy, he generally has to convince the same judge who took his tendered plea that he is now telling the truth about counsel's errors and their effect on his decision to plead guilty. It's a steep climb. And in Rizor's case, it appears the Court may be inclined to take a look at that process and perhaps provide some guidance as to just how steep it should be.
In re: Nomination of Jordan, 56 MAP 2022 (Opinion by Wecht, J.) (holding qualification challenges to candidates for General Assembly are justiciable under the Election Code)
- See also Dissenting Opinion by Brobson, J.
Commonwealth v. Jones-Williams, 27 MAP 2021 (Opinion by Mundy, J.) (holding warrantless seizure of blood drawn by a hospital violated the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, and did not comply with a provision of Pennsylvania's implied-consent law, and vacating the Superior Court's holding that the provision was unconstitutional)
Commonwealth v. Pownall, 17 EAP 2021 (Opinion by Dougherty, J.) (holding that appeal from denial of pretrial motion challenging a defense jury instruction was interlocutory)
Khalil v. Williams, 24 EAP 2021 (Opinion by Todd, J.) (holding that a plaintiff's legal malpractice claims rooted in the consequences of her settlement were not barred by prior cases forbidding a plaintiff from challenging the adequacy of a settlement she agreed to in the absence of fraud)
Dinardo v. Kohler, 62 & 63 EAL 2022 (granting review to consider whether the "no felony conviction rule" precludes damages for medical malpractice related to criminal conduct)
Commonwealth v. Rizor, 27 & 40 WAL 2022 (granting review to consider the proper standard of review for PCRA actions involving ineffective advice in connection with a plea)
Commonwealth v. Zilka, 31 & 32 EAL 2022 (granting review to consider the constitutionality of Philadelphia's refusal to permit a taxpayer a credit for taxes paid to other jurisdictions)