Monday, September 05, 2005

Hard to reach - even for email

Pay grab judge is hard to reach - Cappy 'has an e-mail address, but it's not for the public,' she said.

If the email isn't available, and the property ownership database of the county is not available -- then the knock of being "out of touch" comes true within a blink.

Public officials and judges that own property should be listed within the data in the Allegheny County website. And, the government email address should be posted on other web pages.

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Pay grab judge is hard to reach

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By Eric Heyl
Sunday, September 4, 2005

Lewis Kish was having trouble getting a message to one of his elected officials.

Kish, 68, a retired Butler County engineer, asked for my help last week in locating an e-mail address for Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ralph Cappy.

Kish had a simple request for Cappy. Kish wanted to respectfully ask him to recuse himself from hearing any lawsuit before the court challenging the state Legislature's recent pay grab.

The request is reasonable. Unless called as a witness to testify regarding his complicity in the conspiracy that resulted in these unconscionable salary increases, there is no way Cappy should even be in the same time zone as any Supreme Court hearing on them.

Cappy was the mastermind behind the plan that hiked the pay of 253 lawmakers between 16 and 34 percent and provided significant raises to Gov. Ed Rendell's top aides and the entire state judiciary.

Cappy, 62, a former Allegheny County Common Pleas Court judge, received a 14 percent salary increase as part of the backroom deal. After his compensation rose from $154,448 to $176,800, he publicly defended the raises to state residents whose average income is $38,532.

This offended people such as Kish, who wrote in the e-mail he wanted Cappy to read, "You, sir, are way out of touch with average Pennsylvania citizens. We feel insulted and looked upon as stupid peasants and subservient -- well, we are not."

Believing Cappy might find such a perspective informative, I searched in vain online for his e-mail address.

The receptionist in his Pittsburgh office confirmed Cappy has one, but said, "We can't give it out."

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because," she explained helpfully, "we can't."

I went higher up the ladder to Cappy's secretary.

Cappy "has an e-mail address, but it's not for the public," she said.

"Why not?" I asked again. "The public elected him, didn't it?"

"I think he would be inundated with e-mail if we gave it out," she said. "A lot of people phoned after his phone number was printed in the paper."

She either did not recall, or was too polite to mention, that I was the one who published Cappy's number in a July column. This was after he praised lawmakers who approved his abominable wage-hike plan as "courageous."

Having failed in my mission, I reluctantly related to Kish that:

Despite Cappy's being a state employee;

Despite this being the 21st Century, a time when electronic communication is commonplace;

Despite Cappy's being technologically capable of receiving e-mail from the public;

Cappy's staff will not provide an e-mail address at which the people who employ him -- people such as Kish or yourself -- can contact him.

"That's absolutely outrageous," Kish said.

"True," I said. "But just like anyone angry over Cappy's conduct, you can always call him to demand his recusal if the Supreme Court hears a lawsuit on the pay raises. Or you can call to complain about his staff refusing to provide an e-mail address."

Kish didn't have the number. Fortunately, I had just looked it up.

It's 412-565-2700.

Eric Heyl is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review staff writer. He can be reached at or (412) 320-7857.