20 vying for Pa. statewide judgeship nominations

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Maida R. Milone, president and CEO of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts

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 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 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 are: State Rep. Bryan Barbin of Cambria County; lawyer Timothy Barry of Allegheny County; Ellen Ceisler, a judge on Philadelphia Common Pleas Court; Joe Cosgrove of Luzerne County, who was appointed to Commonwealth Court in 2016; lawyer Todd Eagen of Lackawanna County; and Irene M. Clark, a former judge on Pittsburgh Municipal Court.

The Republican candidates  are Christine Fizzano Cannon, a judge on Delaware County Court, and Paul Lalley, a lawyer from Allegheny County.

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

Superior Court, which hears appeals from the county courts 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 Beaver County Court; Maria McLaughlin, a judge on Common Pleas Court; Geoff Moulton of Montgomery County, who is serving on  Superior Court after being appointed in 2016; and Carolyn H. Nichols, a judge on Common Pleas Court.

The Republican  candidates are: Emil Giordano, a judge on Northampton County Court; Wade A. Kagarise, a judge on Blair County Court; Mary Murray, a district judge in Allegheny County; Paula A. Patrick, a judge on Common Pleas Court; 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 Caye — the bar association cited concerns about his presentation and writing skills, and his temperament — and  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 Allegheny County Court and a former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback.