20 vying for Pa. statewide judgeship nominations

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HARRISBURG — Republican and Democratic voters on Tuesday will choose their nominees for Pennsylvania’s statewide courts, with competitive races for Superior Court and among the Democratic candidates for Commonwealth Court.

For voters, judicial primary races tend to be low-profile affairs. Turnout in the primary elections in odd-numbered years, when municipal and judicial candidates run, was about 19 percent in 2015, when Philadelphia had a mayoral race on the ballot, and 14.7 percent in 2013.

Maida R. Milone, president and CEO of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said she hopes voters seek information about the candidates and participate in the primaries, though her organization advocates for moving to merit selection, through which a nominating commission would recommend judicial candidates to the governor for appointment to the appeals courts. Voters would later get to decide whether to keep the judges on the bench.

“I think the judiciary sometimes gets short shrift,” Milone said. “They shouldn’t. They are there as a protection for us, and in addition, the decisions that they make have significant impact on our lives.”

In Tuesday’s primary races for the statewide appeals courts, the tightest competition is among Democrats seeking to serve on the Commonwealth Court, an appeals court that also serves as the trial court for lawsuits brought by or against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. There are six Democrats competing for two spots on the November ballot. Only two Republicans are seeking the two seats.

The Democratic candidates for Commonwealth Court are: State Rep. Bryan Barbin of Cambria County; attorney Timothy Barry of Allegheny County; Ellen Ceisler, a judge on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas; Joe Cosgrove of Wilkes-Barre, who was appointed to the Commonwealth Court in 2016; attorney Todd Eagen of Lackawanna County; and Irene M. Clark, a former judge on the Pittsburgh Municipal Court.

The Republican candidates for Commonwealth Court are: Christine Fizzano Cannon, a judge on the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, and Paul Lalley, an attorney from Allegheny County.

All were recommended or highly recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association in April except for Irene Clark. (The bar association cited a lack of courtroom experience as an advocate and lack of experience writing briefs or opinions.)

The Superior Court, which hears appeals from the Courts of Common Pleas in most criminal and civil cases, as well as in family law matters, has four open seats with five candidates from each party.

The Democrats running for Superior Court are: Bill Caye of Allegheny County, a former prosecutor with the state Attorney General’s Office; Debbie Kunselman, a judge on the Court of Common Pleas of Beaver County; Maria McLaughlin, a judge on the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia; Geoff Moulton of Montgomery County, who is serving on the Superior Court after being appointed in 2016; and Carolyn H. Nichols, a judge on the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia.

The Republican Superior Court candidates are: Emil Giordano, a judge on the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County; Wade A. Kagarise, a judge on the Court of Common Pleas of Blair County; Mary Murray, a magisterial district judge in Allegheny County; Paula A. Patrick, a judge on the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia; and Craig Stedman, district attorney of Lancaster County.

All Superior Court candidates on the ballot were recommended or highly recommended in April by the Pennsylvania Bar Association, except for Bill Caye — the bar association cited concerns about his presentation and writing skills and his temperament — and Mary Murray, because of a failure to participate.

Voters will not face a choice in the race for the single seat on the Supreme Court. Justice Sallie Updyke Mundy, a Tioga County Republican who was appointed in 2016 to fill a vacancy on the court, is running for a full term. In November, she will face the Democratic candidate, Dwayne Woodruff, a judge on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas and a former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback.

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