November 2014


JSPAN Newsletter - November 1, 2014

Jewish Social Policy Action Network
Election Issue: Remember to Vote on Tuesday!
Newsletter: November 1, 2014
Maureen Pelta and Alan Feldman Receive Social Justice Award
On October 27, at a reception in the ballroom of the Independence Visitor Center in Philadelphia, JSPAN delivered its tenth annual Social Justice Award to Maureen Pelta, Ph.D. and Alan M. Feldman, Esq.

Pelta, daughter of survivors, has promoted Holocaust awareness and education throughout her career. She is the chair of the liberal arts program and Professor of Art History at Moore College of Art. Her signature project, the Mordechai Anieliwicz Creative Arts Competition, furthers Holocaust education by holding a competition by middle and high school students to memorialize the tragedy creatively.

Alan Feldman is a managing partner in the law firm Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner Weinstock & Dodig. He served as Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association, and during his term he advanced access to legal services for the poor, initiating the successful "Raising the Bar" campaign. Feldman serves on the board of Community Legal Services and does pro bono representations alongside his successful professional career.

Judge Gerald McHugh of the Federal District Court spoke on "taking faith and putting it into action" as preached by Jewish and Catholic sources. He explained the message of Psalm 95: today you might hear the Lord's voice, if we can dispel the many distractions that confront us. Judge McHugh commented on the danger of some misguided responses to religious calling. He congratulated Alan and Maureen for their successful good acts in the law and education.

The event in honor of Maureen and Alan stands as JSPAN's most successful Social Justice Award, filling the ballroom to its limit with an enthusiastic audience. Our thanks to the committee that worked to create this event, including (alphabetically) Harris Devor, Elliott Feldman, Marlena Kleit, Ruth Laibson, Ezra Wohlgelernter and Jill Zipin.


JSPAN Board Hears SRC Member Marjorie Neff
At its meeting in October the JSPAN Board adopted a policy statement reaffirming its support of public schools, and urging the state to provide fully funded education for grades K through 12 and an undergraduate college education. The statement provides in part:

"JSPAN supports fully funded public education, preschool through undergraduate college. Providing all children with a solid knowledge base and the tools for critical thinking is crucial for maintaining a just and prosperous democracy where the rights of minorities are preserved and separation of church and state is vigilantly protected." - Ed.

Marjorie Neff, appointed by Mayor Nutter to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission in July, presented her views to the JSPAN Board in a free ranging discussion session. When she received her appointment Neff had just retired from a career in teaching and serving as principal of the Julia Masterman School in Philadelphia. Masterman is a "laboratory and demonstration" school serving students from grades 5 to 12, and is much sought after by parents and students alike.

Ms. Neff believes that powerful interests are promoting charter schools in a concerted effort to destroy the public school system here. She predicts that within five years, the school system will be very different from what we have today.

Shortly after arriving at the School Reform Commission, Neff faced the issue of abrogating the school teachers' union contract and requiring that the teachers contribute to their health and welfare plan. She voted with the majority to abrogate the contract. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has challenged the action, and Neff has been criticized in some quarters for her vote. However, Neff states that this move promises savings of $42 million per year, assuming that the courts confirm its legality. She says that it was a difficult decision, but in view of funding shortfall and the resulting problems in the city public schools, she had to take that action.

Putting education funding front and center in the gubernatorial race in Pennsylvania pleases Neff. She recognizes that the election outcome may not alter matters greatly if the legislature remains as it is. Yet the problems and privation of Philadelphia schools are being drilled into the public.

Ms. Neff pointed out some of the funding problems that beset the Philadelphia School District. The state financial support formula results in larger contributions per student in many other districts, although the largest population of needy students is here in Philadelphia. The basic state funding for Philadelphia schools has barely changed since 2010. Meanwhile large bloc grants that were given in prior state administrations have disappeared.

Adding new charter schools puts a further financial burden on the school district. Although the commission can decline to approve a charter, its decision is reviewed and can be overturned by the state. There are failing charter schools in Philadelphia, but closing them down is a slow process, according to Neff.

- Ken Myers, Esq., JSPAN Vice President



The Money Midterms: A Scandal in Slow Motion
By Evan Osnos
The New Yorker
October 22, 2014

Forty years after the passage of [the Federal Election Campaign Act and other] post-Watergate reforms, the elections on November 4th are on pace to be the most expensive midterms in history (even adjusting for inflation), a distinction hardly worth mentioning in an era when each cycle sets a new record of one kind or another. The last midterm elections, in 2010, cost $4 billion; the 2012 Presidential race added up to $6.3 billion. The spending in this year's race, however, is distinguished by scale and secrecy: "dark money"-the cash from non-profits that aren't required to disclose the names of their donors-now represents more than half of all spending by outside groups in the year's most competitive Senate races, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.


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Comments on the Resignation of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery
Ed: This month, after extended public wrangling over pornographic e-mails and other ethics claims, the members of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court suspended Justice McCaffery and ordered an ethics investigation. Justice McCaffery, without admitting wrongdoing, responded by resigning from the court. The recent commentary addresses the positive and negative aspects of this development.

The Legal Intelligencer
October 28, 2014

Arthur Hellman, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, said ceasing the investigation should be a good thing for the court, and will allow the scandal to fade into the background more quickly.

"An investigation like this could only have increased tensions within the court," he said. "I'm sure that the other justices are breathing a sigh of relief that this is all going to be behind them."

Hellman said there have been a few recent, similar instances of judges in the federal system resigning after an investigation is opened into the judge's conduct. Those judges, he said, had been appointed to the bench for life, but resigned after the individual conduct had come under question. The Supreme Court scandal, he said, was more concerning because, instead of implicating an individual judge's conduct, the recent dispute involved infighting between the justices.

"They must know this kind of public infighting does the court and justice system no good," he said. "Hopefully they will not just put it behind them, but will look for ways of healing."

Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor William P. Fedullo said in a statement, "In light of today's announcement, we hope this matter can now be put behind us so the court can move forward with its work of dispensing justice, and public confidence in the judiciary and the rule of law can be preserved."

Bruce Ledewitz, a professor at the Duquesne University School of Law, said he believed McCaffery was pressured into retirement by the Supreme Court's suspension, which he called an abuse of power. However, Ledewitz added that McCaffery's retirement was good for the court.

"I'm sorry that the abuse of power worked. We've now set a precedent where four justices can remove a democratically elected official from the court," Ledewitz said. "In other ways it's very good for the court because it removes the ongoing distraction of the issues relating to Justice McCaffery ... we can assume that he wasn't a Boy Scout or he wouldn't have retired."


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How to Put Order Into the Pennsylvania Courts
JSPAN is a long term supporter of the need to substitute merit selection of judges for our present system of election. We particularly support merit selection for appellate court judgeships that entail a costly statewide political race for any candidate wishing to have a chance to succeed. Ms. Marks is Executive Director and Ms. Almeida is Program Director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a non-profit association seeking to educate the public to the problems with our present system. - Ed.

Lynn A. Marks and Suzanne Alomeida
The Inquirer
October 26, 2014

Recent revelations of pornographic e-mails, name-calling in the media, allegations of criminal and ethical misconduct, and amateur psychological diagnoses have done nothing but tarnish the commonwealth's justice system.

It's disheartening to see this kind of behavior coming from the Supreme Court. Every justice should be working to reassure Pennsylvanians that they can come to court and be heard by qualified, fair, and impartial judges. Just the appearance of impropriety or misbehavior can be devastating to people's confidence in the judiciary, even if no legal wrongdoing has occurred.



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For Wrongful-Birth Cases, Appeals May Be Just Beginning
By Lizzy McLellan
The Legal Intelligencer
October 2014

When the state Supreme Court hears arguments in Sernovitz v. Dershaw, it will primarily address a procedural issue, but the court's decision will shape the fate of wrongful-birth and wrongful-life lawsuits in Pennsylvania. ...

The Sernovitzes had claimed that health care workers failed to inform them prior to the child's birth that he was at a heightened risk for the genetic disorder, thus robbing them of the opportunity to consider terminating the pregnancy. ...

Both wrongful-birth and wrongful-life cases center on the idea that were it not for the negligence of the defendant, a person would or should not have been born. Wrongful-life cases specify that there would never have been a pregnancy, or that if one did occur, it would or should have been terminated.


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There's a better way to do immigration reform
JSPAN supports immigration reforms including the DREAM Acts of prior sessions of Congress, family reunification, and fair treatment of foreign workers. – Ed.

By Tim Kane
Los Angeles Times
October 20, 2014

Immigration is the definitive wedge issue in American politics, but it doesn't have to be. When the Senate's Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act failed to pass the House this year, it was the third such failure of comprehensive reform in a decade. Here's a good rule: Three strikes, you're out. It's time for a different approach. Congress should forget comprehensive reform and try for pragmatic and incremental change instead.

The theory that immigration reform is too controversial and that all of its parts have to be addressed in a mega-bill are myths.- Skeptics will thunder that there's no room for compromise, the "other party" is unreasonable, the issue boils down to either amnesty or deportation and there's nothing in between that anyone can agree on.

Want to bet? ... think about work visas. The United States issues 60 million visas annually, but only 3 million are for work. Indeed, work visas in the United States are an excessively complex mixture of quotas, rules and bureaucracy.

How could work visas be improved? How would reforms affect the economy? And could liberal, conservative and independent wonks agree on any of it?

The answer is yes.


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Basketball Season Opens with a New Commissioner
October 28, 2014 brings the first round of pro basketball games of the new season. .The new Commissioner of the National Basketball Association is Adam Silver, born in Rye, New York. Adam received his undergraduate degree from Duke and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He clerked for the prominent Judge Kimba Woods of the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Silver has had a stunning career as a corporate law firm litigator. He showed toughness in April as the new Basketball Commissioner, fining the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers and banning him from team ownership, in response to racist remarks that were made privately but became public. Source: Wikipedia.


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JSPAN Officers
Deborah Weinstein

Judah Labovitz
Vice President

Richard I. Malkin
M.D., Vice President

Kenneth R. Myers
Vice President

Burt Siegel
Vice President

George Pomerantz

David Gutin
Assistant Treasurer

Joanna Klein

Jeffrey Pasek
Policy Center Chair

Stewart Weintraub
General Counsel

Rabbi George Stern
Executive Director

Irwin Aronson
Susan Bolno
Adam Bonin
Hon. Ruth Damsker
William Epstein
Brian Gralnick
Margot Horwitz
Adrienne Jacoby Ph.D.
Hon. Babette Josephs
Nathan Kleinman
Marlena Kleit
Ruth Laibson
Theodore Mann
Jay Meadway
Adena Potok
Audrey Ann Ross
J. Sanford Schwartz M.D.
Dan Segal
Marc Stier Ph.D.
Rabbi David Straus
Ilene Wasserman Ph.D.
Lynn G. Zeitlin
Jill Katz Zipin
Gail Zukerman

Judah Labovitz
Ken Myers
Deborah Weinstein

Ira Goldberg




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