By Anthony S. Volpe
Special to the Legal
The recent election of Thomas Nocella as a judge in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas was not unique in many ways. He was the Democratic Party candidate and Philadelphia is a largely democratic city. Nocella alleges he had provided years of free legal work for the party and that got him the backing of the Democratic Party boss, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, which is a huge boost in a democratic city. As expected, the electorate supported the party candidate and Nocella won a judgeship. To that extent, it was very much a standard matter of a party loyalist being rewarded with party support. Nocella's candidacy was vetted by the Philadelphia Bar Association and he received a "recommended" rating. Nothing untoward there … or so it would seem.
However, Nocella has been sanctioned for ethics violations, and apparently admits that he accepted a $60,000 payment for signing a sales document when he was neither an officer of the selling organization nor even a member of the organization. This type of information, which was apparently ignored by the Democratic Party and the Philadelphia Bar Association in advancing his candidacy and recommending his election, gives true meaning to him "winning" a judgeship. It says nothing about earning the right to serve as a judge.
Party politics and the rewarding of loyalist are not bad or corrupt practices. However, ignoring the obligation to advance candidates that meet the job qualifications in training and ethics is a bad or corrupt practice. Likewise, the vetting process of the Philadelphia Bar Association must be reviewed to find and correct the flaw that allowed the recommended rating. I have no reason to suspect that there was any deal between the Philadelphia Bar Association and the Democratic Party to promote Nocella's candidacy, but it has that "something is not right" appearance, especially when the candidate so brazenly admits that it was purely a payback. Philadelphia has many fine jurists who should not be tarred by the election of a judge whose sole basis for being elected is, "That's the way it is done in Pennsylvania."
Politics is not a dirty business until people make it dirty. Philadelphia's political leaders need to raise the bar. Philadelphia cannot be seen as "corrupt and content" if it hopes to attract increased business investment and increasingly affluent residents.
Anthony S. Volpe, a shareholder at Volpe & Koenig, has corporate and private practice experience in securing, licensing and enforcing all aspects of intellectual property rights. His patent work includes appeals before the USPTO Board of Patent Appeals and interferences and international trade commission, prosecution of patent applications, rendering opinions regarding patentability and enforcement of patent rights.