And for that reason alone – the mere, and so very clear, appearance of impropriety – U.S. District Judge Robert D. Mariani should remove himself from presiding over the public corruption trial of former Northeastern Educational Intermediate Unit Executive Director Fred Rosetti.
If the rookie federal judge balks, arguing as expected that he, of course, can and will remain impartial, his bosses should remove him from the case and assign another federal judge - preferably somebody from outside the inner circle of Lackawanna County/Scranton Democratic Party politics that regularly strangles fairness and enables the continuation of our culture of corruption.
We are still in the midst of an ongoing federal investigation into that culture of political corruption. We are gasping for air as we struggle to believe in the system of law that must provide the heart of our nation. The sweet public trust is again about to be abandoned.
Around here, you always have to wonder if the fight is fixed because it usually is. The deck is always stacked, the imbalance of power rests in the hands of supposed good guys turned bad and criminality is just another unholy communion breakfast for generations of thugs who use public service to benefit themselves, their families and their friends.
Much is at stake here whether Mariani and his power-tripping colleagues on the bench for life know it or not.
Northeastern Pennsylvania political kingmaker and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey nominated Mariani after he successfully went through the cheerleading camp interview process that separates the beautiful people from those with hot backgrounds – people like Lackawanna County Judge Terry Nealon whose father has the federal courthouse named after him and who figured that junior would easily pick up the federal gavel.
But poor Terry got sent packing because of the political baggage he carries everywhere he goes - suitcases packed with poor judgment, including his bigoted “leadership” at the segregationist Lackawanna County Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, a group of Irish-American gender gangsters who exclude women from their annual dinner where Nealon, his father and other federal judges join other men and men only – including political candidates – to congratulate each other on their political and business success.
Pity the poor female political candidate who dares to think she might be welcome into the fold where no women need apply. So far, though, no female has been brave enough to challenge the big boys.
Mariani made the judicial candidate cut. When I called his law office a few months ago, he instructed a woman to return the call to tell me that he does not belong to any ethnic club that discriminatory against women.
Now that he’s a judge, I expect him to see the great divide that exists in public perception and public behavior. So I called his chambers last week to ask if he ever made campaign contributions to former state Sen. Bob Mellow, who has pleaded guilty to public corruption and awaits sentencing in federal court – the very federal court where Mariani is paid to do the people’s business. I also asked if Mariani ever attended any of Mellow’s famous annual clambakes, the massive political picnics that hosted governors and senators and served as Mellow’s main political fundraiser that fueled his always successful re-election campaign.
Mellow has admitted to using state Senate staffers to help him raise cash at political fundraisers when they were on the clock and supposedly performing public service for the people they were paid to serve.
But Mariani’s assistant, who relayed my questions to the judge and the judge’s answers to me, said Mariani would not speak with me. The assistant, who refused to give his name when I asked, said Mariani would not talk about a specific case. I said I didn’t want to talk about the details of the Rosetti case. I wanted to talk about the details of whether Mariani had a conflict that should keep him off the case. The judge again refused to talk.
Mariani served on the Scranton School Board when Rosetti taught in the Scranton School District. And, Mariani served as board president in 1980. As such, he played Democratic Party politics as much as anybody. Around here, Mellow was King of Democratic Party politics.
Mellow is also Rosetti’s blood first cousin. Mellow, Rosetti and Mariani all come from the same Democratic Party stock that in our Pennsylvania hard coal country is as thick as thieves – and I mean literally.
To make matters even more confusing – and potentially untrustworthy - U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania Peter Smith, who is overseeing the entire public corruption investigation and Mariani share the same powerful Scranton political sponsor.
Casey nominated both men to their current jobs.
Smith and Mariani should not be in the same courtroom in any public corruption case that stems from the ongoing investigation.
Don’t look for Mariani to do the right thing. Don’t look for his bosses to use common sense, either. Look for them to hide behind the nuance of “law,” which they use mostly for their own benefit rather than to strengthen the precious public trust that suffers irreparably at their hands.