Feb. 29, 2024

Supreme Court Chief Justice Debra Todd, Supreme Court Justice Kevin Brobson, and Court Administrator of Pennsylvania Andrea Tuominen testified today before the House Appropriations Committee. House Republicans questioned the financial transparency of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC), who is responsible for operations of courts within the Commonwealth. Additionally, Republicans asked about the unilateral decision of the Supreme Court to allow for venue shopping in medical malpractice lawsuits, the rationale for the “traveling courts,” and the significant increases in the Judicial budget.

Key Takeaways

· Governor Shapiro’s budget proposal increases the Judiciary’s budget to $454 million, which is 11.2% more than the current fiscal year. Given this large increase in their appropriation, House Republicans asked pointed questions of the Justices relating to their fiscal responsibility. Topics covered included:

     o The $148,000 spent on a 300th birthday celebration for the Supreme Court in Philadelphia.

     o The number of private car leases and if any limitations exist for reimbursement from the AOPC. (NOTE: The Judiciary stated they terminated this policy last year and are down to “3 or 4” which will expire at “some point in the very near future.”)

     o The costs and locations of office spaces leased by Justices.

· Pennsylvania is one of a few states that has “traveling courts,” meaning that court sessions are held throughout the Commonwealth by all three statewide courts. House Republicans inquired about the costs incurred and the need to continue this practice, given the large amount of office space owned in Harrisburg.

· House Republicans questioned the Supreme Court’s unilateral decision to allow venue shopping in medical malpractice civil lawsuits. This decision may again leave Pennsylvania doctors at crossroads, where they may choose to depart Pennsylvania to escape frivolous litigation. Such decisions would place limitations on access to healthcare throughout the Commonwealth.

· Reminded of Pennsylvania's structural deficit and the need to improve cost-reduction measures, House Republicans asked the testifiers if the significant increases in their proposed budget are one-time costs or if they will be recurring costs.

Notable Q&A

Rep. Ann Flood questions the Supreme Court’s need to increase the Judicial Ethics Advisory Board appropriation by 170%.

Rep. Torren Ecker asks the Supreme Court about its unilateral decision to allow “venue shopping” in medical malpractice cases. 

Full Hearing

Watch the full hearing here.

Rep. Seth Grove, Republican Chairman of the PA House Appropriations Committee
196th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives