State Lawmakers File Brief Against Soda Tax

Sodas for sale in a refrigerated case

Photo by Marlith (license)

Thirty-six state lawmakers have signed on to a brief opposing Philadelphia’s soda tax in Commonwealth Court. The Inquirer reported on Monday that the five state senators and 31 state representatives include three Philadelphia lawmakers: state Sen. Anthony H. Williams, state Rep. Angel Cruz, and state Rep. Martina White.

The beverage industry sued Philadelphia late last year over the soda tax, which applies a 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax to all sweetened beverage products sold within city limits. While the tax is applied to distributors, most retail outlets are passing the cost on to consumers. A judge threw out the lawsuit, but an appeal is pending. Read more »

Ex-Chris Christie Aides Found Guilty in Bridgegate Trial

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie answers questions after voting at Brookside Engine Company 1 firehouse Tuesday, June 7, 2016, in Mendham Township, N.J.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie answers questions after voting at Brookside Engine Company 1 firehouse on Tuesday, June 7th, 2016, in Mendham Township, N.J.

A jury today found Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni, two former aides to Gov. Chris Christie, guilty of conspiring to close bridge lanes as a way to punish a mayor who didn’t endorse Christie for re-election.

Kelly, once Christie’s deputy chief-of-staff, and Baroni, a Christie appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, were each found guilty of intentionally misusing Port Authority resources, wire fraud, conspiracy and violating the rights of the citizens of Fort Lee, New Jersey. Read more »

Judge Rejects GOP Suit Over Poll Watcher Rules

Election Day in Philadelphia  in 2010 | Photo by AP/Matt Rourke

Election Day in Philadelphia in 2010 | Photo by AP/Matt Rourke

A judge has rejected an argument from Republicans that asked for the state’s poll-watching rules to be overturned. U.S. District Judge Gerald Pappert said that there is no constitutional right to poll watching, and rejected a lawsuit the Pennsylvania Republican Party had filed against the state.

Before 2004, Pennsylvania law said certified poll watchers could only watch the returns in their districts. That year, state lawmakers amended the election code to allow poll watchers to perform their duties anywhere in the county in which they were registered to vote. A 2015 bill in Harrisburg to allow poll watchers to work anywhere in the state did not pass; with this lawsuit, Republicans attempted to push it through the courts instead. Read more »

Philly Judge Admits He Lied to the FBI

"Justice" engraved on Philadelphia's City Hall

“Justice” engraved on Philadelphia’s City Hall. Photo | Jeff Fusco

Municipal Court Judge Joseph O’Neill admitted today he lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation during an investigation into wrongdoing in the courts. He pleaded guilty to making false statements during the federal corruption investigation.

O’Neill, 65, admitted that he lied to the FBI on two occasions when they investigated former Judge Joseph C. Waters Jr. earlier this decade. Waters abruptly resigned his position and pleaded guilty to fraud in September 2014.

During that investigation, investigators twice asked O’Neill if Waters communicated with him about a case involving Donegal Investment Properties. The owner of Donegal was Sam Kuttab, an ally of Waters, and the FBI had intercepted a conversation where Waters asks O’Neill to “take a hard look at it.” Kuttab pleaded guilty last year. Read more »

Gov. Tom Wolf: “Free the Six-pack” in Gas Stations

Tom Wolf - six pack of beer

Six pack photo by Alan Levine, used under a Creative Commons license

You soon might be able to buy gasoline and beer at the same location — though not at the same time.

In a letter to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board titled “Free the Six-pack,” Gov. Tom Wolf asks the PLCB to allow gas stations to sell six packs of beer at attached convenience stores. The liquor code currently forbids the LCB from approving any new licenses “where the sale of liquid fuels or oil is conducted.”

But, Wolf writes, the LCB should approve 12 such gas station licenses to sell up to 192 ounces of “malt or brewed beverages.” Though the law says the board should not approve such licenses, Wolf says a recent court case has reversed one item in the liquor code: Read more »

Philly’s Court-Appointed Attorneys Are Getting Screwed

Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman (Ursula Coyote/AMC)

Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman (Ursula Coyote/AMC)

If the world has learned anything from Saul Goodman, it’s that the road to prosperity sure as hell isn’t paved in the salaries of court-appointed attorneys.

The first season of AMC’s Better Call Saul began with Goodman in his past life as James McGill, a court-appointed attorney whose frustration with the court system — and life itself — went through the roof when his expected trial payments turned out to be a lot less than what he’d expected. Turns out similar scenes have been playing out in Philadelphia for quite some time.

A handful of court-appointed lawyers recently told the Legal Intelligencer that the city has been quietly slashing their fees during during the last several months. But the problem actually stretches back years, according to Benjamin Lerner, the former Common Pleas Court judge who serves as the city’s deputy managing director for criminal justice. “I’ve been hearing complaints like this going back to at least 2012,” he told Philadelphia magazine on Tuesday.

Read more »

The Please Touch Museum Is Out of Bankruptcy

Please Touch Museum - Philadelphia - Memorial Hall

The Please Touch Museum in 2014. (Photo: Jeff Fusco)

The Please Touch Museum’s 2008 move to Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park did not work out as planned. Revenue from admissions did not reach projected levels. Neither did donations. And the old Please Touch building did not sell for what the museum had originally hoped for.

Financial problems dogged the Please Touch Museum, and last year it filed for bankruptcy. It was $60 million in debt, but had negotiated it down to $11.25 million.

Today, a judge approved that plan: The Please Touch Museum is out of bankruptcy; its debt has been reduced. Almost $8 million was raised, exceeding what the museum needed to pay off its debt. In all, the museum paid $8.25 million, with an additional $3 million in reserve funds also going to bondholders. Read more »

Pa. Judge Rules: Ted Cruz’s Name Stays on Primary Ballot

Ted Cruz

Photo by Gage Skidmore used under a Creative Commons license

One of the (many!) subplots to this year’s presidential race is the status of Ted Cruz‘s eligibility to be president. The constitution requires the president to be a “natural born citizen,” i.e. an American by birth. But Cruz was born in Calgary — which is actually in Canada. His mother was American, though, so he’s fine, right?

Not according to opponents! Some say the Constitution says Cruz is not eligible to serve. Mary Brigid McManamon, a constitutional law professor at Widener, wrote a Washington Post op-ed that argued Cruz was not eligible. Obviously, that Cruz is a “strict Constitutionalist” gives this story an extra bit of drama (and, if you like, levity).

Some who oppose a President Cruz have gone as far to file a federal lawsuit challenging Cruz’s eligibility. And, yesterday, a Pennsylvania judge heard a lawsuit from a Pittsburgh man who challenged Cruz’s eligibility to be president.

He ruled Cruz was eligible. Read more »

2 Brothers Admit Peddling Bootleg Jerseys on Wildwood Boardwalk

Bootleg jerseys - Wildwood - counterfeit jerseys - U.S. Department of Justice photo

The game on the Wildwood boardwalk where the Strothers brothers gave away counterfeit basketball jerseys as prizes. (Photo: U.S. Department of Justice)

As an expert in Wildwood boardwalk T-shirts, it’s time to let you readers in on a little secret: Not all of the shirts are officially licensed products. Logos are used without permission, store owners swipe T-shirt ideas from one another and — maybe because infringers can escape into the sea — the boardwalk is generally a copyright lawlessness zone.

But not always. In the past two weeks, two South Jersey brothers have pleaded guilty to purchasing at least 16,700 counterfeit basketball and football jerseys and giving them away as prizes at three outposts on the boardwalk in Wildwood and North Wildwood. To which I say: It’s actually possible to win those prizes on the Wildwood boardwalk’s basketball games?! Read more »

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