Yesterday, the Philadelphia Inquirer called on Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille to resign over his "sloppy – at best – handling of the process to build a new [Philadelphia] Family Court …"

The main reason:

At issue is the relationship attorney Jeffrey B. Rotwitt had with Castille. Rotwitt was hired to represent the Supreme Court’s effort to build a new $200 million Family Court in Philadelphia. Somewhere along the way, Rotwitt went from representing the court to codeveloper of the project.

Rotwitt has been paid for his roles on both sides of the deal. He says there was no conflict because one job ended before the other began, and he disclosed his roles to Castille and others.

Castille claims he learned Rotwitt was the codeveloper only by reading about it in The Inquirer. Following the newspaper reports, Castille ended the development deal. Rotwitt was subsequently fired by his law firm, Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel.

I’m in no position to comment on the deal; there seems to be considerable disagreement about what the players knew and when they knew it.

But one issue goes far beyond Castille and Rotwitt:

Castille and Rotwitt played golf together. Castille’s response: "I play golf with tons of lawyers." Whoa! This just went from bad to worse. What better way to influence the most powerful judge in the commonwealth than to host him for several hours at a posh country club? One must assume the chief duffer and his lawyer friends don’t hack around Cobbs Creek Golf Club.

It’s hard to blame Castille for playing a lot of golf with a lot of lawyers. Pennsylvania elects its Justices of the Supreme Court (then holds retention votes for them), so if you want to be one, you — like every other elected official — need to play golf, sip cocktails, shoot quail, play poker, and do whatever else candidates do to bond with as many donors as they can.
Consider last year’s Supreme Court election: together, Orie Melvin and Jack Panella raised $4.67 million.
That’s a lot of golf.
Golfing-with-lawyers is an inherent problem of electing judges, as outlined by former U.S. Justice O’Connor:
"Studies show that roughly 70 percent of the public believe judges are influenced by campaign contributions, and more than one quarter of judges agree," O’Connor said in an exclusive interview with CNN. "This is alarming because the legitimacy of the judiciary rests entirely on its promise to be fair and impartial. A judge’s sole constituency should be the law. If the public loses faith in that impartiality, then there is no reason to prefer the judge’s interpretation of the law to the opinions of the real politicians representing the electorate."
Which brings us back to Justice Castille. Would Rotwitt "hosting [Castille] for several hours at a posh country club" create the appearance of impropriety? Maybe so — but it’s exactly what we expect and demand Castille do to keep his position. The whole system of electing judges, populist and democratic as it may be, forces judges into situations that create appearance of impropriety. It’s the only way they can survive.
As they say, "hate the game, not the players."
Better yet, change the game to merit selection, like nearly two-thirds of Pennsylvanians want.
Merit selection wouldn’t solve the golf problem — some appointed judges still go hunting:
In January 2004, Vice President Dick Cheney and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia embarked on a hunting trip. Three weeks earlier, the Supreme Court had agreed to hear a case involving the VP, so Justice Scalia’s decision to join the VP prompted the media to question whether he could remain impartial during the trial. In typically florid (and entertaining) style, Justice Scalia refused to recuse himself and lashed out at his detractors: "I do not believe my impartiality can reasonably be questioned. If it is reasonable to think that a Supreme Court Justice can be bought so cheap, the Nation is in deeper trouble than I had imagined. For Pete’s sake, if you can’t trust your Supreme Court justice more than that, get a life." Justice Scalia’s response suggests that he has no overt bias, and perhaps that’s true. But no one–not even the most devotedly impartial Supreme Court Justice–is immune from the hidden cognitive foibles that plague every human. Just as Mike Norton’s male students unwittingly moved the goalposts to justify hiring an inferior male job applicant, so Supreme Court Justices are liable to emphasize precedents that support their preferred legal conclusions. It’s not enough to want to be impartial; our biases are so well hidden that we’re destined to be partisan as long as we’re motivated to promote one conclusion over its alternatives.
But merit selection would take the money out of the equation, and maybe restore some public confidence along the way. I don’t recall any major newspapers calling on Justice Scalia to resign after his hunting trip.