Law and Government
From a governmental perspective, Philadelphia County is a legal nullity, as all county functions were assumed by the city in 1952, which has been coterminous with the county since 1854.
Philadelphia's 1952 Home Rule Charter was written by the City Charter Commission, which was created by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in an Act of April 21, 1949, and a city ordinance of June 15, 1949. The existing City Council received a proposed draft on February 14, 1951, and the electors approved it in an election held April 17, 1951. The first elections under the new Home Rule Charter were held in November 1951, and the newly elected officials took office in January 1952.
The city uses the strong-mayor version of the mayor-council form of government, which is headed by one mayor, in whom executive authority is vested. Elected at-large, the mayor is limited to two consecutive four-year terms under the city's home rule charter, but can run for the position again after an intervening term. The Mayor is Michael Nutter, who replaced John Street, who served two terms from 1999 to January 2008. Nutter, as all Philadelphia mayors have been since 1952, is a member of the Democratic Party, which tends to dominate local politics so thoroughly that the Democratic Mayoral primary is often more widely covered than the general election. The legislative branch, the Philadelphia City Council, consists of ten council members representing individual districts and seven members elected at large. Democrats currently hold 14 seats, with Republicans representing two allotted at-large seats for the minority party, as well as the Northeast-based Tenth District. The current council president is Darrell Clarke.
The Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas (First Judicial District) is the felony-level trial court of general jurisdiction for Philadelphia. It has 90 legally trained judges elected by the voters. It is funded and operated largely by city resources and employees. The current District Attorney is Seth Williams, a Democrat. The last Republican to hold the office is Ron Castille, who left in 1991 and is currently the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court.
The Philadelphia Municipal Court handles matters of limited jurisdiction as well as landlord-tenant disputes, appeals from traffic court, preliminary hearings for felony-level offenses, and misdemeanor criminal trials. It has 25 legally trained judges elected by the voters.
Philadelphia Traffic Court is a court of special jurisdiction that hears violations of traffic laws. It has 7 judges elected by the voters. As with magisterial district judges, the judges need not be lawyers, but must complete the certifying course and pass the qualifying examination administered by the Minor Judiciary Education Board.
Pennsylvania's three appellate courts also have sittings in Philadelphia. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the court of last resort in the state, regularly hears arguments in Philadelphia City Hall. Also, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania and the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania sit in Philadelphia several times a year. Judges for these courts are elected at large. Each court has a prothonotary's office in Philadelphia as well.
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