ago, a candidate-screening committee asked Judge Joan
Orie Melvin whether she would have enough time to devote
to her judicial duties while she raised six small
children. That question led to another: How much time
does a judge spend at work?
Post-Gazette reporters monitored Allegheny County Common
Pleas Court judges for five months to answer that
question. The following reports are based on their
Feb. 15, 1998
Where have all the judges
Each day, defendants, victims, witnesses,
police officers, jurors and court personnel wait and wait
and wait. The judicial system staggers along, weighed
down by procedures and customs that seem geared to the
convenience of only the judges.
The judges respond
Here are their reactions to a Pittsburgh
Post-Gazette investigation that found a culture of short
work days, long lunch breaks and slow-moving cases in the
county's criminal and civil courts.
A child waits
To call Allegheny County's juvenile court
a river of tears would be a compliment. Juvenile court is
a swamp where judges are bogged down with cases and
children are caught in the mire.
Victim advocates for the Center for
Victims of Violent Crime, a nonprofit organization, helps
people build the ''courage'' they need to get through a
It was 8:52 a.m., and the punctual jurors
had been waiting quietly in the jury room for at least 22
minutes. It was a skill to which they would grow
accustomed as the day wore on.
court's most diligent judge
It's Friday afternoon, and most of the
courtrooms in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court are
dark and silent. But in the courtroom of Judge R. Stanton
Wettick Jr., it's ''Happy Hour.'' The place is packed
with lawyers, but the fare is nonintoxicating. Wettick is
serving up rulings in a small mountain of civil cases.
of a comprehensive evaluation system
There is no formal, comprehensive
evaluation program for judges in Pennsylvania.
Judges, attorneys, jurors and others who
deal with Allegheny County courts offer a variety of
suggestions for improving the system.
It's business as usual for judges
President Judge Robert E. Dauer says he
does not plan to admonish his colleagues about their work
habits in the wake of the Post-Gazette series. ''I have
no control over the judges,'' Dauer said.
Reporting this series
Last year, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sought records
of the time that Allegheny County Common Pleas judges
spent on the job. There were none.
So 12 reporters made 60 random visits to courtrooms and
jury assignment rooms during a five-month period to
observe judges' work habits and determine why so many
people spent so much time waiting in the court system.
In most instances, reporters spent the day in a courtroom
or jury assignment room. They monitored when judges came
and went and the frequency and durations of recesses and
lunch breaks. In assignment rooms, they observed how
frequently panels of prospective jurors were questioned,
the length of lunch breaks and the times jurors were
dismissed for the day.
Fourteen of the 41 Common Pleas judges were monitored in
or around their courtrooms. Several others were observed
only as they arrived for work or departed. Twenty judges
Reporters also spoke with lawyers, victims' advocates,
jurors, national experts, and others who had contact with
the court system. They also reviewed numerous statistical
reports about Allegheny County courts and other court