The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has imposed tough new rules – effective Tuesday – ordering Philadelphia judges to work harder and giving prosecutors more time to mount their cases and potentially win more convictions, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. In one key change, Municipal Court judges can no longer postpone hearings when defendants, police, witnesses, and victims are in the courtroom and ready to go, a little-known practice that has contributed to the pervasive delays that have bogged down the criminal courts.
Some judges have been stepping down from the bench early in the day without completing the list of cases assigned to them. Delayed case files then are marked “Ready – not reached.” Chief Justice Ronald Castille, saying he was responding to a recent Inquirer series that described a court system in chaos, won the backing of the full seven-member Supreme Court for new rules that will apply only in Philadelphia, where 60,000 new cases enter the court system annually. “We’re taking some pretty dramatic steps to improve things,” said Castille, who was Philadelphia district attorney from 1986 to 1991. “We obviously recognize there were some problems in the system.” The reform agenda was crafted by the chief justice and Justice Seamus McCaffery, who has been overseeing an overhaul of the Philadelphia courts in response to the Inquirer’s findings. District Attorney Seth Williams predicted the changes would have a “huge impact” and increase the city’s conviction rates.