Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk

Legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus.

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The Loyal Tipstaff.

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | January 23, 2012

No. 793

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette expanded its coverage yesterday of employment of the President Judge’s two daughters and two sons-in-law within the judicial system by publishing a list of the relatives of judges working as their tipstaves (yes, that’s the plural), law clerks and other members of their office staff.

These Post Gazette articles, while noting that there is nothing illegal or unethical in this practice, suggest that better qualified candidates are never given consideration.

However, in pronouncing judgment, the PG fails to to mention an overriding consideration that all judges weigh when inviting anyone into the inner circle: loyalty.  Each member of a judge’s staff is constantly being queried by people who ardently wish to know the probable outcome of a case. The judge must be confident that the staff member will not be drawn into a discussion that will reveal something that should be confidential. Sometimes celebrities or other important people are appearing before the court.  Nosy people, like reporters, must be kept in the dark, not for the sake of the litigants per se, but to preserve the integrity of the judicial process.

While discrete and loyal employees exist everywhere, they can sometimes be difficult to find.  The advantage of a relative is that their personal attributes are already well-known to the judge-employer.  Plus, there is the bond of loyalty  that traditionally comes with kinship.

The duties of a tipstaff do not require a great deal of formal education and can be learned through OJT.  The most important responsibility of a tipstaff serving a trial judge is to take charge of the jury from the moment they are assigned to a case until the moment they are discharged. To do this well, a tipstaff must employ  skills that are impossible to identify in an interview.  Common sense, problem solving and ability to size up a situation in a moment are three such intangibles.  A tipstaff must always be polite and considerate, but also in control.  And above all, a tipstaff must be loyal to the judge, 100%.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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