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Pennsylvania Judicial Elections

Tuesday, October 30, 2001

PENNSYLVANIA JUDICIAL RETENTION ELECTIONS
Judicial retention is a system of retaining judges for additional terms after they have been elected on a partisan, contested ballot. Previous elected incumbent candidates for justice or judge appear unopposed on the ballot. The only question confronting the voter is whether or not the judge should be retained. (Click names for photos.)


JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT
VOTE YES OR NO
TERM: 10 YEARS
SALARY: $133,643

DUTIES: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the highest judicial authority in the commonwealth. In addition to being the final court of appeals, it serves as administrator of the unified court system and is responsible for ensuring that all Pennsylvania courts perform their duties properly. The court hears decisions of the Superior and Commonwealth courts and, in certain cases, from Common Pleas Court. It may also assume jurisdiction over any case pending before a lower court that involves an issue of immediate public importance. There are seven Supreme Court justices, the chief justice being the one having the longest continuous service on the court.
QUESTION: What specific suggestions do you have for improving the administration of justice in Pennsylvania?

STEPHEN A. ZAPPALA
AGE: 69; PITTSBURGH

EDUCATION: Graduate of Duquesne University, 1954; J.D., Georgetown University, 1968.
OCCUPATION: Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
QUALIFICATIONS: Elected to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 1982 and retained for another full term in 1991; served as a judge of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas after having been elected in 1979; 30 years as a member of the bar of the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; 12 years as a member of the bench of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County.
ANSWER: The single most critical concern that the Supreme Court faces is the statewide unification of the judicial system. The judicial system is the only branch of government that has not been given the resources to implement a unified system across the commonwealth as required by our constitution. As a result, judicial resources are unevenly distributed. Our first priority is to ensure the availability of court services so as to avoid delay.


JUDGE OF THE SUPERIOR COURT
VOTE YES OR NO
TERM: 10 YEARS
SALARY: $129,458

DUTIES: The Pennsylvania Superior Court is one of two intermediate appellate courts. It hears all criminal and civil appeals from the Courts of Common Pleas except for death penalty cases and those that are specifically assigned to the Commonwealth Court. The court has fifteen judges, with the president judge elected by the members. Judges of the Superior Court must be lawyers and must reside in Pennsylvania for at least a year before their election and for as long as they continue in office.
QUESTION: What specific suggestions do you have for improving the administration of justice in Pennsylvania?


STEPHEN J. MCEWEN JR.
AGE: 69; MEDIA

EDUCATION: University of Virginia Law School, LL.M.; University of Pennsylvania Law School, J.D.; St. Joseph's University, B.A.
OCCUPATION: President judge emeritus, Pennsylvania Superior Court.
QUALIFICATIONS: Twenty years as a member of the Pennsylvania Superior Court; five years as president judge; 20 years as a trial attorney; 10 years as professor of trial advocacy of Villanova Law School; eight years as district attorney of Delaware County and two years as a public defender; honorary degree of doctor of laws from the University of Scranton, Widener University Law School and DeSales University.
ANSWER: Equal justice for all is not simply an expression of boast, it must be, as well, a declaration of a goal. That statement is as clear a summons in 2001 as when I expressed it in a 1989 opinion. Since there is an intrinsic interdependence between the judiciary and the citizenry, accountability must be an inherent element of judicial administration if equal justice for all is to be a vivid perception among the people.


JUDGE OF THE COMMONWEALTH COURT
VOTE YES OR NO
TERM: 10 YEARS
SALARY: $129,458

DUTIES: Commonwealth Court has original jurisdiction over civil actions brought against or by the commonwealth. It hears appeals from the Courts of Common Pleas in cases involving the commonwealth or its administrative agencies. The court has nine judges, with the president judge elected by the members.
QUESTION: What specific suggestions do you have for improving the administration of justice in Pennsylvania?


SHELLY FRIEDMAN
AGE: 63; DOYLESTOWN

EDUCATION: B.A. and J.D., University of Pittsburgh.
OCCUPATION: Judge, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.
QUALIFICATIONS: Ten years ago, the voters of Pennsylvania elected me judge of Commonwealth Court. In this capacity I have heard, diligently researched and promptly adjudicated original and appellate cases pertaining to all subject matter within the jurisdiction of this court.
ANSWER: Assist nonpartisan citizen organizations to register voters, educate citizens about candidates, issues and the electoral process so voters may become valued partners in the evaluation and performance of the administration of justice; expand use of arbitration and other alternative dispute methods to reduce the volume of litigation and appeals, reducing the time from initiation to final disposition of cases; expand utilization of available technology to monitor and facilitate court productivity.




PENNSYLVANIA JUDICIAL ELECTIONS<

JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT
VOTE FOR ONE
TERM: 10 YEARS
SALARY: $133,643

DUTIES: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the highest judicial authority in the commonwealth. In addition to being the final court of appeals, it serves as administrator of the unified court system and is responsible for ensuring that all Pennsylvania courts perform their duties properly. The court hears decisions of the Superior and Commonwealth courts and, in certain cases, from Common Pleas Court. It may also assume jurisdiction over any case pending before a lower court that involves an issue of immediate public importance. There are seven Supreme Court justices, the chief justice being the one having the longest continuous service on the court.
QUESTION: The governor has suggested that Pennsylvania consider changing from a partisan election of appellate court judges to a merit-based appointive system. What do you think is the best way to select judges for the statewide courts? Please explain.


REPUBLICAN
MIKE EAKIN
AGE: 52; ELIZABETHTOWN

EDUCATION: J.D., Dickinson School of Law; B.A., Franklin & Marshall College.
OCCUPATION: Pennsylvania Superior Court judge.
QUALIFICATIONS: Nine and one-half years private law practice; 21 years prosecuting trial attorney; 12 years elected district attorney; 5 1/2 years Superior Court judge; education chair and president, Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association; chairman, Supreme Court Criminal Rules Committee; published author and national speaker on prosecutor ethics, advocacy. Pennsylvania Bar Association's highest recommendation for Supreme Court.
ANSWER: Voting by the people forces urban candidates to visit all of Pennsylvania, not just their city, an experience that serves statewide judges well. While the concept of appointed judges is appealing, any such system is no improvement if it is merely election by politicians; the deal-making that is a hallmark of appointments has to be avoided. "Merit selection" should be implemented only when the plan truly means selection by merit alone.


DEMOCRATIC
KATE FORD ELLIOTT
Age: 52; Pittsburgh

EDUCATION: B.A. education, University of Pittsburgh, 1971; M.S. education, Duquesne University, 1973; J.D. law, Duquesne University, 1978.
OCCUPATION: State Superior Court judge since 1990.
QUALIFICATIONS: As a Superior Court judge for 12 years, I have handled thousands of cases from all across Pennsylvania including appeals involving criminal matters, personal injury and property cases, divorce, support, custody and wills and estate matters. I have received the highest recommendation for the Supreme Court from both the Pennsylvania Judicial Evaluation Commission and the Allegheny County Bar Association.
ANSWER: Whether judges are selected by election or appointment is not the real issue. The most important quality of any judge at any level is judicial independence. Both election and appointment have the potential to inhibit and endanger that quality. People are entitled to believe that any judge who presides over their claims is one who will grant them a fair and impartial hearing. I want my campaign to reflect this covenant of trust.


JUDGE OF THE SUPERIOR COURT
VOTE FOR NOT MORE THAN THREE
TERM: 10 YEARS
SALARY: $129,458

DUTIES: The Pennsylvania Superior Court is one of two intermediate appellate courts. It hears all criminal and civil appeals from the Courts of Common Pleas except for death penalty cases and those that are specifically assigned to the Commonwealth Court. The court has 15 judges, with the president judge elected by the members. Judges of the Superior Court must be lawyers and must reside in Pennsylvania for at least a year before their election and for as long as they continue in office.
QUESTION: The governor has suggested that Pennsylvania consider changing from a partisan election of appellate court judges to a merit-based appointive system. What do you think is the best way to select judges for the statewide courts? Please explain.


REPUBLICAN
MARY JANE BOWES
AGE: 47; PITTSBURGH

EDUCATION: Duquesne University, 1972-74; Georgetown University, 1974-76, B.A.; University of Pittsburgh School of Law, J.D., 1979.
OCCUPATION: Corporate counsel, The IT Group.
QUALIFICATIONS: Six years judicial law clerk to Superior and Supreme courts; 13 years general legal practice; three years corporate counsel to environmental firm; extensive community service; honored by Gov. Ridge as one of Pennsylvania's Best 50 Women in Business in 1997.
ANSWER: Although I am unable to comment upon disputed political or legal issues, I can say that the campaign has been an incredible opportunity for me to learn more about our state, its resources, its communities, its problems and its remarkable people. Because Pennsylvania is such a diverse state, the opportunity to grow in my knowledge of the state will enhance and strengthen my understanding of the problems and issues that come before the Superior Court.


RICHARD B. KLEIN
AGE: 61; PHILADELPHIA

EDUCATION: Winner, National Merit Scholarship; Amherst College, 1961, Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude; Harvard Law School, 1964, with honors.
OCCUPATION: Judge, Common Pleas Court, for 27 years.
QUALIFICATIONS: 27 years' experience hearing just those cases that are appealed to the Superior Court. The only Superior Court candidate to receive the Pennsylvania Bar Association's highest "highly recommended" rating. Active in writing, teaching and justice improvement projects, including vice chair of Pennsylvania Futures Commission, co-chair, Plain English Committee.
ANSWER: There is no perfect way to select judges. There are problems with appointive systems as well. What is important is that the citizens pay attention to the judicial branch of government and insist that only qualified persons be elevated to the appellate courts, be they appointed or elected. Any appointive system should be carefully constructed to include public participation -- as has been said, the justice system is too important to leave to judges and lawyers.


JOHN T. BENDER
AGE: 53; PITTSBURGH

EDUCATION: Duquesne University, School of Law, 1976, J.D.; Penn State University, School of Journalism, 1970, B.A.
OCCUPATION: District justice for magisterial district 05-2-04 (1997-2003).
QUALIFICATIONS: I have clerked for both the Pennsylvania Superior and Supreme courts. I served as an Allegheny County assistant district attorney, trying a large number of criminal jury trials. My experience in the private practice of law spans 22 years and encompasses all areas of civil litigation. I am qualified.
ANSWER: Although a merit-based appointive system does have certain advantages, its enactment would reduce those who select appellate courts judges from seven million voters to a handful of committee members. These committee members, chosen from large law firms and corporations, would select judges who represent their points of view. Candidates who have spent their careers working for individuals and individual rights would, therefore, have little support, even if they were favored by the public majority.


DEMOCRATIC
DAVID WECHT
AGE: 39; PITTSBURGH

EDUCATION: Yale College, 1984, B.A. summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, distinction in dual majors (history and political science); Yale Law School, 1987, J.D., Notes Editor, The Yale Law Journal; intern, career criminal division, state's attorney's office.
OCCUPATION: Register of wills, Allegheny County (January 1998 to present); trial lawyer/litigator (1988 to present); adjunct professor, Duquesne Law School (1996 to present); law clerk to Circuit Judge MacKinnon, U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit (1987 to 1988), Distinguished Service Award.
QUALIFICATIONS: Preside over hearings as register of wills and write legal opinions; tried numerous cases to verdict in jury trials and bench trials over 14 years; tried or argued cases in each level of Pennsylvania's courts and in federal court; successfully administer 65-employee government office with $2.5 million budget.
ANSWER: There are advantages and disadvantages to both systems. The current reality is that we hold elections for judges in Pennsylvania and that, barring a constitutional amendment, this system will continue. Because the issue has become something of a political football, I feel it would be inappropriate for me to enter any partisan debate. Nothing I do or say is going to change the fact that I am seeking a Superior Court seat in an election rather than in an appointive system.


LYDIA Y. KIRKLAND
AGE: 49; PHILADELPHIA

EDUCATION: J.D., Howard University.
OCCUPATION: Judge.
QUALIFICATIONS: My qualifications for the Superior Court are rooted in my vast judicial trial experience, sense of fair play and perspective of my gender and ethnicity. In addition, I have "good administrative skills" and "a clear understanding of the role of the judiciary in administering justice."
ANSWER: I believe that qualified candidates for the appellate courts should be elected by the people.


STEPHANIE DOMITROVICH
AGE: 47; ERIE

EDUCATION: B.A., Carlow College (summa cum laude), 1976; J.D., Duquesne University School of Law, 1979; M.J.S., University of Nevada at Reno, 1993 and 1998.
OCCUPATION: Judge, Erie County Common Pleas Court.
QUALIFICATIONS: Judge for over 11 years, presiding over criminal and civil trials, family-juvenile-orphans' court hearings; one of two judges in the United States having M.J.S. with two majors, trial court and juvenile justice/family; wrote published articles advocating unified family court and racial balance on juries; maintained active role in community.
ANSWER: I believe in the independence of the judiciary and that the voters should select their judges. Judges should represent fair and equal justice for all the people of Pennsylvania. Judges should not be beholden to a select group of lawyers and politicians. Additionally, I support the election of appellate court judges by geographic region to insure that all people in our Commonwealth are represented on our highest courts.



JUDGE OF THE COMMONWEALTH COURT
VOTE FOR NOT MORE THAN THREE
TERM: 10 YEARS
SALARY: $129,458

DUTIES: The Commonwealth Court has original jurisdiction over civil actions brought against or by the commonwealth. It hears appeals from the courts of Common Pleas in cases involving the commonwealth or its administrative agencies. The court has nine judges, with the president judge elected by the members.
QUESTION: The governor has suggested that Pennsylvania consider changing from a partisan election of appellate court judges to a merit-based appointive system. What do you think is the best way to select judges for the statewide courts? Please explain.


REPUBLICAN
RENEE COHN
AGE: 43; ALLENTOWN

EDUCATION: Penn State University, B.A.; Northwestern University School of Law, J.D.
OCCUPATION: Attorney.
QUALIFICATIONS: Experience as an elected township commissioner and appointed assistant county solicitor, as legal counsel for a regulated telecommunications company, as a private attorney and as a teacher at several prominent law schools. Recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association Judicial Review Commission.
ANSWER: This election is not a referendum on the method of selecting judges. The state Constitution provides for electing judges, and most people support keeping that system. Seven new judges will change the look of the three courts. I intend to run a very voter-oriented campaign, going to as many places as possible, meeting as many people as possible, and working to make the voters aware of my qualifications to serve on the Commonwealth Court.


ROBIN SIMPSON
AGE: 50; NAZARETH

EDUCATION: J.D., Dickinson School of Law of Penn State University, 1976.
OCCUPATION: Judge.
QUALIFICATIONS: Judge for 11 years, handling all types of cases; former trial lawyer with active practice in municipal, zoning and workers' compensation; adjunct law professor; "Highly recommended" by Pennsylvania Bar Association.
ANSWER: The law in Pennsylvania currently provides for the statewide election of appellate court judges. Temporary merit appointments are possible under certain circumstances, but the appointed judge must stand for general election for a full term. As a sitting judge, I will uphold existing law. Following the Code of Judicial Conduct, I respectfully decline to announce my views on disputed political issues, such as the best way to select statewide judges.


MARY HANNAH LEAVITT
AGE: 54; HARRISBURG

EDUCATION: Connecticut College, 1965-69, B.A. (dean's list); University of Pennsylvania, 1971-72, M.A. (classical archeology); Dickinson School of Law, 1975-78, J.D. (Law Review).
OCCUPATION: Shareholder, Buchanan Ingersoll.
QUALIFICATIONS: I have personally handled over 40 cases before the Commonwealth Court, in both its original and appellate jurisdiction. I have also handled numerous appeals to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. I have been counsel of record in 45 reported decisions of the Commonwealth and Supreme courts. My practice in federal court has complemented this legal work in state courts. This year, I served as counsel of record in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that turned on a statutory construction issue. In short, my legal experience over the past 22 years has been excellent preparation for service on the Commonwealth Court. The Pennsylvania Bar Association has "highly recommended" my candidacy for judge of the Commonwealth Court.
ANSWER: I do not believe the Code of Judicial Conduct permits me to opine on this important political question. The law on how appellate judges are chosen is an issue that has the potential to be presented to the Commonwealth Court for which I am a candidate.


DEMOCRATIC
JAMES J. DODARO
AGE: 57; PITTSBURGH

EDUCATION: J.D. Duquesne University, 1969; B.A. political science University of Pittsburgh, 1966.
OCCUPATION: Attorney, Dodaro, Kennedy & Cambest; executive vice president and general counsel Resource Development & Management Inc.
QUALIFICATIONS: My knowledge of the law and legal ability, together with my experience in all facets of the administration and workings of public agencies at all levels of government, provide me with key insights that I would bring to this court.
ANSWER: The current system that Pennsylvania uses for electing appellate court judges has given us many qualified judges over the years. However, I understand the arguments for Pennsylvania using a merit-based appointive system. Although I am concerned about the reality of having a truly objective set of standards that would make the process meaningful, the merit-based appointive system does have many advantages and the potential for complete fairness.


JERRY LANGAN
AGE: 40; PITTSTON

EDUCATION: University of Scranton, B.A./M.A., 1983; University of Bridgeport, J.D. (summa cum laude), 1986.
OCCUPATION: Attorney.
QUALIFICATIONS: I bring a well-rounded background to the court. I have both moderate trial experience and extensive experience in appellate work, principally before the Commonwealth Court. I am viewed by my peers as possessing a reputation for integrity and high ethical standards. Finally, I remain involved with diverse community activities.
ANSWER: Public election still remains the best way to choose statewide judges. We have a representative form of government and, therefore, the courts should also reflect the will of the people. Trust in the judiciary, as an institution, has been shaken by recent developments. More people experience decisions by state and local judges than by federal court judges; therefore, one should not compare our present selection of state court judges to the federal appointment process.


IRWIN W. ARONSON
AGE: 50; HARRISBURG

EDUCATION: B.A. labor studies, Penn State University, 1973; juris doctor, Dickinson School of Law, 1982.
OCCUPATION: Attorney.
QUALIFICATIONS: My practice has continuously been concentrated in the areas of law which are the focus of the Commonwealth Court's jurisdiction including administrative agency, workers' and unemployment compensation, labor and employment, election and voting rights law, legislative interpretation and appellate practice. I have earned the highest professional rankings available including an AV rating from Martindale-Hubble, indicating the highest levels of both professional competence and ethical practice, being named in Best Lawyers in America for the past 12 consecutive years and earning the Pennsylvania Bar Association Judicial Evaluation Commission's highest possible rating of "highly recommended."
ANSWER: I believe that all selection systems presently in place and those recently proposed have certain inherent flaws. However, a so-called "merit based" system which strips citizens of their right to vote and participate in the selection process and replaces that with a political elite making the selection decisions for us and imposing those decisions on the people is not acceptable. We need to cultivate better and more accessible voter education and information systems, such as those pursued by the league, as a method of assuring greater participation by a better-informed voting public.





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