HARRISBURG (Oct. 6, 2015) - In a few weeks, voters will fill three seats on the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, one seat on the Superior Court of Pennsylvania and one seat on the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.
To better inform voters about the candidates in this statewide election, the Pennsylvania Bar Association Judicial Evaluation Commission is reissuing its ratings and descriptive paragraphs for all appellate judge candidates appearing on the Nov. 3 ballots.
Each candidate was eligible to receive a rating of "Highly Recommended," "Recommended" or "Not Recommended." The PBA JEC's ratings are as follows:
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania -
Judge Christine L. Donohue, Allegheny County
Judge Judith F. Olson, Allegheny County
Judge David N. Wecht, Allegheny County
Judge Kevin M. Dougherty, Philadelphia County
Judge Michael A. George, Adams County
Judge Paul P. Panepinto, Philadelphia County
Judge Anne E. Covey, Bucks County
Superior Court of Pennsylvania -
Judge Alice B. Dubow, Philadelphia County
Judge Emil A. Giordano, Northampton County
Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania -
Paul N. Lalley, Allegheny County
Michael H. Wojcik, Allegheny County
The PBA JEC based its ratings for each candidate on a two-part evaluation process. Investigative panels conducted the first phase of the process, which included personal interviews with the candidates and with individuals who have had professional or personal dealings with them. Upon completion of the investigative process, the panels submitted confidential reports to the Commission. Upon receipt and review of the investigative panel's report, the Commission conducted the second phase of the evaluation process. The Commission interviewed each candidate, discussed his or her qualifications and reached consensus on each candidate's rating using the following criteria:
- Highly Recommended: The candidate possesses the highest combination of legal ability, experience, integrity and temperament and would be capable of outstanding performance as a judge or justice of the court for which he/she is a candidate.
- Recommended: Based on legal ability, experience, integrity and temperament, the candidate would be able to perform satisfactorily as a judge or justice of the court for which he/she is a candidate.
- Not Recommended: Based on legal ability, experience, integrity or temperament, or any combination thereof, at the present time, the candidate is inadequate to perform satisfactorily as a judge or justice of the court for which he/she is a candidate.
"The PBA JEC seeks to give voters guidance by only recommending potential candidates who have the legal ability, experience, integrity and temperament needed to provide satisfactory or outstanding performance as judges on our appellate courts." said Montgomery County lawyer Robert F. Morris, chair of the commission.
Serving with Morris in the leadership of the PBA JEC is Berks County lawyer Heidi B. Masano as vice chair and Erie County lawyer Steven E. (Tim) Riley Jr. as immediate past chair. Lawyer members include A. Harold Datz of Philadelphia County; Richard A. Estacio of Montgomery County; Nancy Lauffer Heilman of Allegheny County; Richard B. Henry of Wayne County; Stephanie F. Latimore of Dauphin County; C. Edward S. Mitchell of Lycoming County; Kimberly Moses of Allegheny County; Howard A. Rothenberg of Lackawanna County; and Lorrie E. Whitfield of Monroe County. Non-lawyer members are Gregory Cowhey of Philadelphia County; Keith Eckel of Lackawanna County; Denice Ferranti-Robinson of Fayette County; Edith Marino of Lycoming County; Susan Sherman of Philadelphia County; and Matthew Woessner of Dauphin County.
Ratings Paragraphs for Candidates Seeking to Fill Three Vacancies on the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Judge Anne E. Covey
Rating: Not Recommended
Shortly after being admitted to the bar, the Candidate entered the private practice of law, first as an associate and then as a partner, spending most of this part of her career at two different New Jersey law firms. In 1996, she opened her own law office in Lambertville, New Jersey. During the years of her private practice, the Candidate represented corporations in labor and employment matters. From 2002 until 2011, she was a member of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. In 2011, she was elected as a judge of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. Her opinions as a member of the Commonwealth Court have been well written, clear and concise. In connection with her 2011 campaign for Commonwealth Court, the candidate signed a pledge to not engage in false or misleading campaign advertising. The commission viewed one of her campaign advertisements, which aired in early November of 2011, and concluded she violated her pledge. Moreover, when questioned about the matter, in the Commission's opinion, she was not forthright in her responses. Because of violations of her 2011 campaign advertising pledge, and her recent failure to answer the Commission's questions about her advertisement in an honest and straightforward manner, the Commission cannot recommend her candidacy for the Supreme Court.
Judge Christine L. Donohue
Rating: Highly Recommended
The Candidate has been a judge on the Superior Court of Pennsylvania since January 2008. Prior to her tenure on the court, she was a practicing attorney with extensive civil trial and appellate court experience. She demonstrates a wealth of knowledge in a variety of areas, including civil, domestic relations, criminal and constitutional matters. The Candidate's reputation among her colleagues is one of intelligence, conscientiousness and objectivity, and she is known for possessing high ethical standards. Her opinions and legal writings are well-reasoned. She has demonstrated her commitment to legal and judicial ethics as a member of the Disciplinary Board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline. She also has extensive community involvement and has taught courses for both professional and lay audiences. Because of her broad experience as a practicing attorney, proven record of judicial leadership and ethics and dedication to the legal profession, the Commission is confident that the Candidate would serve with distinction as a Supreme Court justice and highly recommends her candidacy.
Judge Kevin M. Dougherty
Before being appointed to the trial bench, the Candidate worked as an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia and in private practice as a criminal and civil litigator. He was appointed by the governor in 2001 to fill an unexpired term on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. He was then elected to a 10-year term in 2001 and retained in 2011. He has been appointed to serve as chair of the administrative governing board in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and administrative judge of the trial division. He had served previously as administrative judge of the family division and supervising judge of the juvenile branch. In these roles, he implemented innovative solutions to problems in the juvenile dependency and delinquency areas. He has served on statewide commissions studying juvenile justice issues and statewide committees recommending domestic relations and juvenile court procedural rules. He is a strong administrator. Considered fair, open-minded, courteous and a good listener, he also is a hard worker and a consensus builder. Based on his judicial and administrative experience and his work ethic, judicial temperament and integrity, the Commission recommends the Candidate to serve on the Supreme Court.
Judge Michael A. George
The Candidate serves as the president judge on the Adams County Court of Common Pleas. He was elected to the court in 1999 and has presided over a variety of cases, including criminal, civil and family matters. Prior to his tenure on the court, the Candidate served as the Adams County District Attorney for five years. The Candidate is reported to possess a calm, professional and fair judicial demeanor and has a reputation as an excellent administrator. His legal opinions and rulings are regarded as well reasoned, and he has demonstrated his commitment to the legal profession by participating in various bar association programs. The Commission believes that the Candidate would perform satisfactorily as a justice on the Supreme Court and recommends his candidacy.
Judge Judith F. Olson
Rating: Highly Recommended
The Candidate is a keen legal thinker and the author of well-reasoned and well-written opinions. The Candidate started her legal career as a highly-regarded legal scholar and a well-organized litigator handling complex civil litigation. The Candidate practiced in state and federal courts. She ascended to the bench first as a judge on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. After serving nearly a year as a trial court judge, she began her service as a judge in the Pennsylvania Superior Court, where she has served since 2010. The Candidate is consistently assessed as having a high level of integrity and a congenial, courteous and professional demeanor, which has been praised by colleagues, advocates and court staff. As a serving Superior Court judge, the Candidate has demonstrated her excellent administrative skills, which are evidenced by her ability to issue more than 300 opinions a year with other Superior Court panelists. The Candidate has been involved in bar association functions, community activities promoting education and mentoring, nonprofit organizations supporting health care initiatives, institutions of higher education and church organizations. The Commission is confident the Candidate meets the rigorous standards required to receive the rating of highly recommended for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Judge Paul P. Panepinto
The Candidate is an experienced jurist with more than two decades of service on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. During his tenure on the bench, the Candidate worked to develop specialty courts and managed complex litigation matters. The Candidate is knowledgeable about the law and procedure. The Candidate's reputation among litigants and counsel is generally positive. The Candidate engages in community service by teaching at local institutions of higher education. The Commission believes the Candidate can meet the intellectual demands of a Supreme Court justice and therefore recommends his candidacy.
Judge David N. Wecht
Rating: Highly Recommended
The Candidate has consistently shown his affinity for the law since the beginning of his legal career as a hardworking and prolific lawyer, and, more recently, as a distinguished member of the judiciary for the last 12 years. While serving as a common pleas court judge in Allegheny County, he created the innovative “One Family, One Judge” program that sought and achieved consistency in matters before the family court division. The Candidate has presided over many cases in the civil division of the common pleas court as well. The Candidate ascended to the Pennsylvania Superior Court in 2011, where he further honed his skills as a well-respected and thoughtful jurist. His opinions during his tenure on both courts have been well reasoned, thorough and cogent, demonstrating a deep understanding of the often-complex legal issues involved and providing clear guidance on future matters to the courts, attorneys and litigants. His forward-thinking approach to the law, unquestioned legal ability, integrity and judicial temperament would serve him well, and the Commission highly recommends him for a seat on the Supreme Court.
Ratings Paragraphs for Candidates Seeking to Fill One Vacancy on the Superior Court of Pennsylvania
Judge Alice B. Dubow
The Candidate began a 10-year term on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas in 2008. She has practiced law since 1984, serving as a law clerk, associate attorney in private practice, a lawyer in the Philadelphia city solicitor's office, deputy general counsel for Drexel University and in her own practice until her election to the bench. The Candidate possesses a broad array of experience in insurance defense work, commercial litigation, tax work for the city and in private practice and in the diverse matters she handled for Drexel. While on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, she has served extensively in the family court, and to a more limited degree, in the criminal and civil divisions. She is recognized as a team player, very professional, thorough and hard working. Her writing is well organized and scholarly. The Commission believes the Candidate's experience as a lawyer and as a judge render her competent to fulfill the responsibilities of a Superior Court judge and therefore recommends her candidacy.
Judge Emil A. Giordano
The Candidate is a common pleas court judge who is generally well regarded as a jurist of integrity and good temperament by attorneys and litigants that come before him. The Candidate's background and experience, both as a trial lawyer and as a sitting judge, indicate he has a clear understanding of the Rules of Procedure and the Rules of Evidence. His experience as an administrative judge demonstrates his ability to address the office, personnel and fiscal needs of running a court. The Candidate volunteers in his community and teaches at local educational institutions on legal topics. The Candidate is engaging, sincere, intelligent and affable. Because of the Candidate's experience with domestic law, criminal law and civil matters, the Commission recommends his candidacy for Superior Court.
Ratings Paragraphs for Candidates Seeking to Fill One Vacancy on the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
Paul N. Lalley
The Candidate has practiced law since 1996, serving as a clerk to a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice and thereafter in private practice. Recently, he has primarily represented public sector clients such as municipalities, school districts and public school entities in labor and employment matters. He practices before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Commonwealth Court, U.S. District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The Candidate demonstrates integrity and is known as a worthy and knowledgeable opponent. His writing skills are held in high regard, particularly his ability to clearly explain complex legal issues. The Commission believes the Candidate has the requisite legal ability and skills to serve on the Commonwealth Court and recommends his candidacy.
Michael H. Wojcik
The Candidate has practiced law since 1989 in a variety of settings, including small, medium-sized and large law firms. This breadth of experience has allowed him to develop expertise in a wide range of areas, including tax, civil rights, personal injury and municipal law. During this time, he has served as solicitor for Allegheny County and more recently as solicitor for the Allegheny County Airport Authority. The Candidate is well respected by attorneys, judges and his clients for his thoughtful and calm demeanor and for the professionalism with which he conducts himself. His writing is thorough, logical and well researched, and his legal analysis is excellent. The Candidate is active is his community and has held leadership positions within the Boy Scouts of America. The Commission believes the Candidate would perform satisfactorily on the Commonwealth Court and recommends his candidacy.
Questionnaires submitted by the November 2015 appellate court candidates participating in the PBA JEC process, the PBA JEC's evaluation paragraphs and additional information about Pennsylvania's appellate courts are posted on the following website: www.pavotesmart.com.
Founded in 1895, the Pennsylvania Bar Association exists to promote justice, professional excellence and respect of the law; improve public understanding of the legal system; facilitate access to legal services; and serve the 27,000 lawyers who are members of the association.