One Lycoming County judge thinks that an apparent reduction in criminal activity here may be linked to less of an influence from Philadelphia residents.
Speaking Monday at the Williamsport Rotary's meeting at the Genetti Hotel, Judge Dudley N. Anderson acknowledged the multi-year decrease in criminal filings within the judicial system. He estimated the number of criminal cases seen by county judges has dropped by about 10 percent a year for the past three years, something backed up by FBI Unified Crime Reports and information released from the Lycoming County District Attorney's Office.
But Anderson said part of that may be because fewer defendants are coming from the Philadelphia area.
"Maybe there's less of a Philadelphia connection," Anderson said. "At one time, we had a significant portion of our (defendants) that had an address from outside the county - primarily Philadelphia. Maybe Williamsport isn't an appropriate place to live if you want to be in the 'pharmaceutical sales business.' "
Still, the judge sees plenty of cases that involve drugs and alcohol. Anderson estimated that 80 percent or more criminal cases are due to drug and alcohol addition.
It is not rare for addicts to shoplift or steal credit cards to support their habit, he said.
"It is significant and still a problem," he said of that type of behavior. "We fully haven't gotten our arms around it. The judiciary is a reactive organization. We get them at the end of the line."
Anderson spends most of his time on the bench hearing domestic and family cases, which include protection from abuse orders, child support and custody issues and divorce. He said the court processes about 4,000 domestic cases a year with the assistance of two family court masters, Diane L. Turner and Dana M. Jacques.
Civil cases, which Anderson described as "the most complex," number about 500 to 600 a year, he said. But thanks to tort reform enacted several years ago, the number of frivolous medical malpractice cases has plummeted, he said.
Statewide, the number of medical malpractice suits filed has dropped more than 45 percent, Anderson said. Attorneys who represent plaintiffs suing medical practitioners must file certificates of merit on the case that need to be verified by doctors.
"It's very hard to document a frivolous case," Anderson said.
He added that lawyers look twice before accepting a medical malpractice case because of the high cost of representation and because "most are awarded to the defense."
That's no exception in Lycoming County, Anderson contends.
"Lycoming County jurors don't like lawsuits," he said. "They judge you with a high standard. You have to hurdle a high bar. We have a bit of a reputation for that."
Anderson also praised the offices that the court oversees - juvenile probation, adult probation and domestic relations. He said that investing money in these programs have paid off.
"If you can change behavior, you can conquer a problem," he said.