Beginning next January, Greene County will again be a one-judge county, at least for one year.
This is not a unique situation. Until 1998, the county’s bench was served by one judge, but the court’s caseload became such a second judge was added. That judge was William Nalitz, who will step down Dec. 31, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 in October.
On Jan. 1, Farley Toothman, who was elected to the bench in 2012, will become the lone jurist and will assume the position of president judge.
In addition to handling civil and criminal caseloads, Toothman also will be responsible for supervising the judicial business of the court, setting all administrative rules and regulations, making judicial assignments once a second judge is seated and designating available court chambers and other physical facilities to court personnel.
We hope Toothman is well-rested and frequently eats his Wheaties. That’s a lot to ask of one person.
The obvious question is, why not appoint someone to the bench until a second judge takes office in January 2016?
According to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, the Legislature has underfunded budget requests over a number of years. The courts looked to trim expenses and costs where they could. In addition, a moratorium on replacing judges was put in place, instead filling the role with senior judges to save money.
And it is unlikely Gov. Tom Corbett would make an appointment. According to the AOPC, such appointments give an unfair advantage to the appointee when running for election as it is highly unlikely an incumbent judge would be unseated.
If such an appointment were made, we would advocate the appointee be considered a caretaker, meaning he or she would agree not to seek election to the vacated seat.
We recognize Toothman received an appointment in 2009 following the retirement of President Judge H. Terry Grimes. Then-Gov. Ed Rendell’s appointment was necessary because there would have been a three-year lag before a second judge was elected.
Again, we would have preferred a caretaker being appointed, but finding someone to serve who would agree not to run would have been a difficult task.
Nonetheless, Toothman will have the option to request support from the AOPC in handling the roughly 1,000 cases that traditionally come through the Greene County court in a single year. Of those cases, between 450 and 600 involve criminal charges.
We hope if the task of being a one-judge bench becomes overwhelming, Toothman will seek backup from a senior judge.
We hope pride does not overshadow practicality.