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PBA Judicial Evaluation Commission Releases Retention Ratings for Judicial Candidates

HARRISBURG (July 18, 2007) - The Pennsylvania Bar Association Judicial Evaluation Commission today released its ratings of one Supreme Court justice, four Superior Court judges and three Commonwealth Court judges who are standing for retention in the November 2007 election.

The ratings for the retention candidates are as follows:

  • Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Justice Thomas G. Saylor - Recommended for Retention
  • Superior Court of Pennsylvania Judge Michael T. Joyce - Recommended for Retention
    (Editor's note: Judge Joyce announced on Aug. 20 that he will not seek retention.)
  • Superior Court of Pennsylvania Judge Joan Orie Melvin - Recommended for Retention
  • Superior Court of Pennsylvania Judge John L. Musmanno - Recommended for Retention
  • Superior Court of Pennsylvania Judge Correale F. Stevens - Recommended for Retention
  • Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania Judge Bonnie B. Leadbetter - Recommended for Retention
  • Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania Judge Bernard L. McGinley - Recommended for Retention
  • Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania Judge Doris Smith-Ribner - Recommended for Retention

"Our commission's duty is to provide information that Pennsylvanians want and need to make informed voting decisions about judicial candidates," said Pittsburgh lawyer Chris F. Gillotti, chair of the PBA JEC. "Following our investigative evaluations, we recommend only those candidates that will best serve in Pennsylvania's courts."

Because retention elections require only a "Yes" or "No" vote of the public, the commission rates retention candidates either as "Recommended for Retention" or "Not Recommended for Retention."

The commission based its findings for each candidate on a two-part evaluation process. Investigative panels conducted the first phase of the process, which included a thorough review of the candidate's completed questionnaire, an analysis of written opinions authored by the retention candidate within the last three to five years, and interviews with judges and lawyers who have appeared before the retention candidate.

The panels then submitted confidential written reports to the Commission outlining their preliminary, non-binding recommendations.

The Commission members reviewed the questionnaires and opinions as well as the investigative panel reports, and where necessary, interviewed the panel chairs before rendering its own evaluation and recommendation.

Serving with Gillotti in the leadership of the PBA JEC is Erie County lawyer Steven E. (Tim) Riley Jr. as vice chair. Lawyer members include Michael A. Bloom of Philadelphia County; Frederick N. Egler Jr. of Allegheny County; Stephanie F. Latimore of Dauphin County; Lucille Marsh of Lackawanna County; Heidi B. Masano of Berks County; Pamela J. Mayer of Cambria County; John R. McGinley of Allegheny County; Dianne I. Nichols of Dauphin County; Mark D. Shepard of Allegheny County; Kathryn Lease Simpson of Dauphin County; and John F. Stoviak of Philadelphia County. Non-lawyer members are Esther Bush of Allegheny County; Daniel A. Cirucci of Montgomery County; David W. Hamstead of Allegheny County; Jeraldine D. Kozloff of Berks County; and R. Thomas Williamson of Lawrence County.

Founded in 1895, the Pennsylvania Bar Association exists to promote justice, professional excellence and respect of the law; improve public understanding of the justice system; and facilitate access to legal services. The PBA represents more than 29,000 lawyers who are licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania.

RATINGS PARAGRAPHS

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

Justice Thomas G. Saylor
Rating: Recommended for Retention

Justice Saylor was elected to the Supreme Court in 1997, after serving as a judge of the Superior Court since 1993. His tenure on the Supreme Court has earned him the respect of members of the Bar and his fellow justices for his intellect, honesty and temperament. His well-written and well-researched opinions have generated a substantial amount of consensus among the justices. His opinions are orderly, logical, thorough, highly analytical and well reasoned. Justice Saylor is consistently described as hardworking, diligent and highly professional. His peers regard him as a jurist of integrity and excellent character. Justice Saylor currently serves as liaison to the Supreme Court Appellate Rules Committee and the Supreme Court Orphans' Court Rules Committee and is devoted to improving the quality of justice. Pennsylvanians have been well-served by Justice Saylor, and his record of service, scholarly writings and dedication to the law clearly demonstrate that Justice Saylor should be retained on Pennsylvania's highest court for another term.

Read the Candidate's questionnaire.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

Judge Michael T. Joyce
Rating: Recommended for Retention
(Editor's note: Judge Joyce announced on Aug. 20 that he will not seek retention.)

Prior to his election to the Superior Court in 1997, Judge Joyce served as a judge on the Erie County Court of Common Pleas for almost 13 years where he worked diligently to improve the efficiency and consistency of that court's family division. He later served in the court's criminal and civil divisions. Before becoming a lawyer, Judge Joyce served in the U.S. Army and was a decorated Vietnam veteran. During his term on the Superior Court, Judge Joyce worked hard, earned the respect of his colleagues as an able and productive jurist, and became an asset to the court. His demeanor is excellent. He is courteous of litigants. He has authored a guide to assist trial judges in resolving child custody matters. His Superior Court colleagues agree that he has served that court with distinction. He is an untiring contributor to the Erie County Bar Association through his work on continuing legal education programs. Judge Joyce also speaks to local school and Bar groups and has prepared written materials for and lectured to sky marshals employed by the Homeland Security Department. Recently, it was reported that a grand jury is investigating Judge Joyce's settlement of his claim for personal injuries he sustained in a 2001 automobile accident. Judge Joyce has denied any wrongdoing in the matter. Because of the secretive nature of grand jury proceedings, the Commission is unable to discover all the information that the grand jury has heard or what its investigation entails. The facts that are known about the investigation, which are not much above the status of rumor, do not rise to a level that would affect the Commission's positive evaluation of Judge Joyce's abilities and contributions. For his overwhelmingly positive qualities and for his contributions to the court and the people of this commonwealth, Judge Joyce is recommended for retention on the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

Read the Candidate's questionnaire.

Judge Joan Orie Melvin
Rating: Recommended for Retention

Judge Melvin served on the City of Pittsburgh's Municipal Court and then on the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas before being elected to the Superior Court 10 years ago. During her term on the Superior Court, she has been involved in the disposition of more than 750 cases per year involving virtually all areas of the law. Judge Melvin is recognized for her strong analytical and writing skills, and her opinions are well reasoned and clearly written. She has shown her commitment to the administration of justice by her involvement in the implementation of many innovative and effective programs on the courts she has served. Judge Melvin has a solid record of community involvement and is a frequent participant in Bar-related educational programs. She has gained the respect of both her peers on the bench and the lawyers who appear before her. Her integrity is unquestioned, and she has demonstrated a thorough knowledge of the law and rules of court. Because of her impressive record of service as a Superior Court judge, Judge Melvin has earned the Commission's recommendation for a second 10-year term.

Read the Candidate's questionnaire.

Judge John L. Musmanno
Rating: Recommended for Retention

Judge Musmanno was elected to the Superior Court in 1997 after having served as a judge of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas since 1981. During his tenure on the Superior Court, he has shown a keen interest in improving the administration of justice in the commonwealth and the efficient use of court systems and procedures. In that regard, he is an active member of the Case Management Committee and is the liaison for the court's mediation program. He served on the Judicial Conduct Board from 2001 to 2005 and is presently on the Court of Judicial Discipline. He is highly regarded for his intelligence, courteousness, fairness, judicial temperament and professionalism. Lawyers who appear before him find him well prepared, attentive and able to get to the heart of any issue. Judge Musmanno's opinions are thorough and reasoned. He is held in high esteem by his judicial colleagues. Judge Musmanno has clearly has demonstrated all of the qualities necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of an appellate judge during his initial term and the Commission recommends his retention.

Read the Candidate's questionnaire.

Judge Correale F. Stevens
Rating: Recommended for Retention

Judge Stevens was elected to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania in 1997. Prior to his election, he served as a trial judge on the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County for seven years. In 1987, he was elected district attorney of Luzerne County and he served four terms in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1980 to 1988. Judge Stevens is held in high esteem throughout the legal community and is known for consistently being thoroughly prepared, polite, courteous and fair. His legal opinions are well reasoned, clearly written and demonstrate a broad knowledge of the law. His administrative abilities are evidenced by his service as chair of the Technology Committee of the Superior Court. Judge Stevens has an exceptional record of community and professional involvement. Through his service, he has shown an unquestionable devotion to enhancing the quality of justice. Because of Judge Stevens' work ethic, respect of his peers and devotion to the quality of justice, the Commission recommends his retention as a judge of the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

Read the Candidate's questionnaire.

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

Judge Bonnie B. Leadbetter
Rating: Recommended for Retention

Judge Leadbetter has served as a judge of the Commonwealth Court since 1996, having been appointed that year and elected to a ten-year term beginning in 1997. Before serving on the bench, she was an assistant district attorney, assistant United States attorney, counsel to an insurance company, judge pro tempore of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, and in private practice. Judge Leadbetter is recognized for her high level of legal ability, sound judgment, courteous manner and appropriate judicial temperament. Her well-reasoned and well-written opinions reflect her thorough understanding of the facts and trial court record under review. The judge is very active in the legal community and participates frequently in continuing legal education programs for lawyers. Her integrity and personal character are beyond reproach. Her recent selection as president judge of the Commonwealth Court is testament to the respect, confidence and support her colleagues on the court have in her considerable abilities. The Commission finds Judge Leadbetter as clearly deserving of retention for another term as a member of the Commonwealth Court.

Read the Candidate's questionnaire.

Judge Bernard L. McGinley
Rating: Recommended for Retention

Judge McGinley was elected to the Commonwealth Court in 1987 and was retained by the voters for a second term in 1997. Previously, he served as an assistant district attorney and as a judge of the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Reserve Medical Corps in 1970 and achieved the rank of captain. He is uniformly praised for his judicial temperament, demeanor, fairness, intelligence and dedication to the law. Judge McGinley's written opinions address a broad spectrum of legal issues and are well reasoned and demonstrate a clear understanding of the facts and applicable law. He treats lawyers fairly and courteously and is held in the highest regard for his legal knowledge and analytical abilities. He has demonstrated the highest level of integrity in his personal and professional life. His work ethic, scholarship, excellent character and commitment to enhancing the quality of justice clearly warrant a recommendation for his retention as a member of the Commonwealth Court.

Read the Candidate's questionnaire.

Judge Doris Smith-Ribner
Rating: Recommended for Retention

Judge Doris Smith-Ribner has been a member of the Commonwealth Court since 1988. During her terms on the Commonwealth Court, Judge Smith-Ribner has earned a reputation as a dedicated, hard-working and diligent jurist possessing a scholarly mind and an even-handed approach to the administration of justice. She asks thoughtful questions during oral argument, is respectful of counsel during argument and is consistently well prepared and thorough in her analysis and treatment of the issues presented to her. Judge Smith-Ribner is known and respected for her keen understanding of legal principles and her thorough understanding of the rules of Commonwealth Court. She is an able and innovative administrator as evidenced by her development of a very successful Commonwealth Court mediation program and her service for 13 years on the Pennsylvania Judicial Auditing Agency, including as chairperson of the agency from 1999 to 2004. She also has an interest in the mentoring of new lawyers as evidenced by her development of a nationwide judicial externship/clerkship program that places students with federal and state court judges throughout the country. Judge Smith-Ribner is held in high esteem by her judicial colleagues and the court's staff. Her character and integrity are of the utmost quality, and she is devoted to deciding the issues presented to her court quickly and efficiently. Judge Smith-Ribner has earned the Commission's recommendation for retention on the Commonwealth Court.

Read the Candidate's questionnaire.