PBA Judicial Evaluation Commission Reissues Ratings for Judicial Candidates, Provides Information for Voters

HARRISBURG (Oct. 8, 2009) - In just a few short weeks, voters will be deciding whether to retain two judges in the appellate courts, and voters will be filling one seat on the Supreme Court, four seats on the Superior Court and two seats on the Commonwealth Court.

To better inform voters about the candidates in this statewide election, the Pennsylvania Bar Association Judicial Evaluation Commission today reissued its ratings and descriptive paragraphs for all appellate judge candidates appearing on the Nov. 3 ballots.

Retention Candidates for Superior and Commonwealth Courts of Pennsylvania

Because retention elections require only a "Yes" or "No" vote of the public, the PBA Judicial Evaluation Commission rates retention candidates either as "Recommended for Retention" or "Not Recommended for Retention." The ratings for the retention candidates are as follows:

Superior Court of Pennsylvania
Judge Kate Ford Elliot - Recommended for Retention

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
Judge Dan Pellegrini - 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.

Candidates Seeking to Fill Vacancies on the Supreme, Superior and Commonwealth Courts of Pennsyvlania

Each candidate seeking to fill a vacancy and requesting an evaluation by the PBA JEC is eligible to receive a rating of "Highly Recommended," "Recommended" or "Not Recommended." The commission's ratings are as follows:

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania -
Highly Recommended

Judge Joan Orie Melvin, Allegheny County
Judge Jack A. Panella, Northampton County

Superior Court of Pennsylvania -
Highly Recommended

Judge Anne E. Lazarus, Philadelphia County
Judge Judith F. Olson, Allegheny County
Judge Teresa Sarmina, Philadelphia County

Recommended
Judge Robert J. Colville, Allegheny County
Kevin F. McCarthy, Allegheny County
Sallie Updyke Mundy, Tioga County
Judge Paula Francisco Ott, Chester County
Templeton Smith Jr., Allegheny County

Not Recommended
Marakay J. Rogers, York County (for failure to participate)

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania -
Recommended

Kevin Brobson, Dauphin County
Linda S. Judson, Allegheny County
Judge Patricia A. McCullough, Allegheny County

Not Recommended
Barbara Jo Ernsberger, 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 in Harrisburg, 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 provides information to help voters choose candidates best suited to serve as fair, impartial and knowledgeable judges," said Pittsburgh lawyer Chris F. Gillotti, chair of the PBA JEC. "By its own definitions, the PBA JEC only recommends potential candidates with the legal ability, experience, integrity and temperament to provide satisfactory or outstanding performance as judges on our appellate benches."

Serving with Gillotti in the leadership of the PBA JEC is Erie County lawyer Steven E. (Tim) Riley Jr. as co-vice chair and Montgomery County lawyer Robert F. Morris as co-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; Dianne I. Nichols of Dauphin County; Rebecca L. Reinhardt of Lycoming County; Mark D. Shepard of Allegheny County; John F. Stoviak of Philadelphia County; and Joseph C. Waters Jr. of Philadelphia County. Non-lawyer members are Denice Ferranti-Robinson of Fayette County; Jeraldine D. Kozloff of Berks County; Susan Sherman of Philadelphia County; John D. Unangst of Delaware County; and Diane Wakefield of Beaver County.

RATINGS PARAGRAPHS FOR RETENTION CANDIDATES

SUPERIOR COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Judge Kate Ford Elliott - Rating: Recommended for Retention

The Candidate has served with distinction as a Pennsylvania Superior Court judge since 1990. In that capacity, she has earned a reputation for a superior intellect, an extraordinarily high work ethic and admirable judicial knowledge. The Candidate's merits as a jurist and administrator culminated in her election by her peers to the position of president judge of the Superior Court, a position in which she has served since January 2006. Notwithstanding her assumption of administrative responsibility for the court, her opinions continue to be consistently well-written, demonstrating thorough and impartial legal analysis of both the substantive and procedural issues. Her reputation for integrity and her judicial temperament are above reproach. Despite maintaining an extensive case load in a heavily overburdened court, the Candidate has demonstrated a long-term commitment to significant participation in legal education of both lawyers and judges and in numerous civic and law-related activities. Based upon her leadership, high integrity, outstanding scholarship, thoughtful understanding of the law and fair and even-handed approach, the Commission recommends that the Candidate be retained.

Read the Candidate's questionnaire.

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Judge Dan Pellegrini - Rating: Recommended for Retention

The Candidate has served as a Commonwealth Court judge since 1990. Prior to serving on the bench, he practiced law in the City of Pittsburgh Law Department and eventually became city solicitor. This experience provided him with a caseload that mirrored the types of cases that come before the Commonwealth Court. The Candidate has both a theoretical and practical understanding of the law and its historical origins. He is viewed as bright, scholarly and energetic. He exercises sound judgment and displays a courteous manner and appropriate judicial temperament. The Candidate's opinions are well conceived and constructed, reflecting a thorough understanding of the facts and trial court record under review. The Candidate participates frequently in continuing legal education programs and other educational efforts to improve the quality of the legal system. His integrity and personal character are beyond reproach, and he is held in high esteem by his judicial colleagues and the bar. The Candidate clearly demonstrated all of the qualities necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of an appellate judge during his two previous terms on the Commonwealth Court, and the Commission recommends his retention.

Read the Candidate's questionnaire.

RATING PARAGRAPHS FOR CANDIDATES SEEKING TO FILL VACANCIES

SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Judge Joan Orie Melvin - Rating: Highly Recommended

The Candidate was elected to the Superior Court in 1997 and was retained by the voters for a second term in 2007. She previously served seven years as a judge on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas and five years as chief magistrate of the Pittsburgh Municipal Court, where she is credited for establishing the first Domestic Violence Court in Pennsylvania. She also worked for two years on a corporate legal staff and two years in private practice in Pittsburgh. Her diligence, organizational skills and strong work ethic have served her well in handling the heavy caseload of the Superior Court. Her written opinions are cogent and well reasoned. The Candidate has an impressive record of involvement in professional activities and community service, including her recent development of a program for high school students about the legal consequences of Internet usage. She is recognized as genial and fair minded, and she has demonstrated sound judicial temperament. She is respected by her colleagues on the Superior Court, the lawyers who have appeared before her and those who have worked with her in the community. Based on her solid record of performance, the Commission concludes that the Candidate is deserving of its highest rating.

Read the Candidate's questionnaire.

Judge Jack A. Panella - Rating: Highly Recommended

The Candidate currently serves as a judge of the Superior Court, having been elected in November 2003. He previously served more than 12 years as a common pleas judge in Northampton County, and before that was a practicing attorney and county solicitor. He has served as a judge and President Judge of the Court of Judicial Discipline, where charges against judicial officers are heard, and as chair of the Judicial Conduct Board, which investigates claims of ethical misconduct against Pennsylvania judges and brings charges in meritorious cases. His service on the Commission for Justice Initiatives in Pennsylvania exemplifies his commitment to the improvement of the quality of justice. He is the principal author of an important bench book for Pennsylvania trial judges about crimes of sexual violence. His written opinions are crafted with clarity and precision. During his time on the bench, he has shown both sound judicial temperament and exceptional administrative ability. The Commission believes the Candidate possesses a rare combination of intellect, energy and skills that qualify him as highly recommended to ascend to the Supreme Court.

Read the Candidate's questionnaire.

SUPERIOR COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Judge Robert J. Colville - Rating: Recommended

The Candidate has served as a judge in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County since 2000. Prior to becoming a judge, the candidate was in private practice and had served as a law clerk for Justice Ralph J. Cappy. Although he was elected to the bench at a relatively young age, he has clearly demonstrated sufficient legal ability and judicial temperament to have earned the respect of lawyers and other members of the bench. His work as the toxic substance case supervising judge highlights his administrative ability. The Candidate is extremely hard working and passionate about the improvement of the quality of justice. He enjoys and thoroughly understands his role as a judge. The Commission believes that the Candidate possesses the character, integrity, judicial temperament and skills to serve as a Superior Court judge.

Read the Candidate's questionnaire.

Judge Anne E. Lazarus - Rating: Highly Recommended

The Candidate has served as a common pleas judge in Philadelphia County for 18 years. She was elected to a 10-year term in November 1991 and retained for a second term in 2001. For the past five years, she has served as an Orphan's Court judge. She previously served as a law clerk and practiced law in a solo practice and later with a large firm. The Candidate serves as chair of the Ethics Committee of the State Conference of Trial Judges and is called upon for advice on ethical questions by members of both the bench and bar. She has an impressive record of facilitating settlement in a large number of cases assigned to her. The Candidate is intelligent, thoughtful, candid and scholarly, and she demonstrates superior writing ability, knowledge of the law and exceptional judicial temperament. Her advocacy of pro bono service has encouraged lawyers to participate in these programs. The candidate has mentored law students and young lawyers and has served in many capacities in community organizations. The Commission concludes that the Candidate would bring exceptional skills, experience and personal qualities to the Superior Court and would serve the court and the commonwealth with distinction.

Read the Candidate's questionnaire.

Kevin F. McCarthy - Rating: Recommended

The Candidate has worked in the appellate unit of the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office since 1990. He has proven to be a superior appellate advocate. He has excellent writing skills. The Candidate is highly regarded by his colleagues in the practice of law and members of the courts before whom he has appeared. He is described by his peers as honest and honorable. The Candidate has taught college, law school and continuing legal education courses. He devotes time to charitable work through his church. He is scholarly, courteous and compassionate. The Commission recommends the Candidate for a position on the Superior Court based on his intellect, character and integrity.

Read the Candidate's questionnaire.

Sallie Updyke Mundy - Rating: Recommended

The Candidate has had diverse legal experience in her twenty-one year legal career. She has handled a variety of civil litigation matters, including medical malpractice defense cases and plaintiff personal injury cases. Recently, the Candidate has served as a voluntary assistant public defender in Tioga County. She has served as a member and then chair of a hearing committee of the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The Candidate is bright and articulate and is regarded by her peers as personable, hardworking and compassion. She is dedicated to the improvement of the quality of justice and her writings are clear and concise. The Commission recommends her for a position on the Superior Court. (Commission member Riley recused himself from participation in the evaluation and rating of this Candidate.)

Read the Candidate's questionnaire.

Judge Judith F. Olson - Rating: Highly Recommended

The Candidate excelled academically in both college and law school. She was a skilled and successful litigator, with broad experience in both the trial and appellate courts. In October 2008, she was appointed to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. She is regarded by her peers as intelligent, ethical, congenial and fair and has a well-rounded reputation for diligence and productivity. Her character and integrity are beyond reproach, and she brings energy and enthusiasm to a commitment for the improvement of justice. In addition, the Candidate is committed to extensive community service. The Commission highly recommends her for a seat on the Superior Court.

Read the Candidate's questionnaire.

Judge Paula Francisco Ott- Rating: Recommended

The Candidate is currently serving as president judge on the Chester County Court of Common Pleas and previously served as president of the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges. She has extensive experience, both as a lawyer and a judge, in Orphan's Court issues and is a member of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Orphan's Court Rules Committee. The Candidate has demonstrated significant administrative ability, having supervised the orderly transition into a new courthouse facility. She has been involved and recognized for her consistent efforts to educate the public about judicial independence. She is noted for her judicial temperament, organizational ability and intellect. Her written opinions reflect a structured and orderly thought process, and the Commission recommends her candidacy for Superior Court.

Read the Candidate's questionnaire.

Marakay J. Rogers - Rating: Not Recommended (for failure to participate)

The Commission issued a "Not Recommended" rating to this candidate for failure to participate in the evaluation process.

Judge Teresa Sarmina - Rating: Highly Recommended

The Candidate currently serves as a judge on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. She was elected in 1997 and retained in 2007. She previously worked as a senior deputy attorney general with responsibility for drug, fraud, antitrust and charitable organization violations. She also worked for five years as an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia, as a legislative aide to a congressman and as a social worker. Her recent experience as a trial judge has included major criminal cases. She writes with a clear and precise style, and her opinions are well-reasoned and seldom reversed. She has earned the respect of her colleagues on the bench and of the lawyers who have appeared before her. Her integrity and sound judicial temperament are unchallenged. The Commission concludes that the Candidate would bring exceptional skills, experience and commendable personal qualities to the Superior Court, and the Commission highly recommends her candidacy.

Read the Candidate's questionnaire.

Templeton Smith Jr. - Rating: Recommended

The Candidate has extensive experience as an appellate advocate and has appeared before the Superior Court on numerous occasions. His substantive legal experience covers a wide variety of areas, including zoning, land use, commercial, medical malpractice and tort litigation. The Candidate is recognized for his strong writing abilities, scholarly legal analysis and effective advocacy. He has taught continuing legal education courses and has participated in bar association committees. In addition, he has provided pro bono support for church and community organizations. The Candidate has the requisite legal experience, intellectual ability, character and integrity to render him competent to fulfill the demanding responsibilities of a Superior Court judge and, therefore, the Commission recommends him for a position on the court.

Read the Candidate's questionnaire.

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Kevin Brobson - Rating: Recommended

Since completing his federal judicial clerkship, the Candidate has concentrated his practice in the areas of administrative law and insurance law, both of which fall within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Court. His writings are analytical, logical, clear, cogent and easily read. Even though he is involved in a busy, complex practice, the Candidate has found time for civic duties and community service. He has demonstrated the legal ability sufficient to have earned the respect of lawyers and members of the bench. The Candidate possesses the requisite knowledge of the rules of evidence and courtroom procedures. He has the appropriate judicial temperament. Based on his credentials, experience, and writing ability, the Candidate is recommended to serve on the Commonwealth Court.

Read the Candidate's questionnaire.

Barbara Jo Ernsberger - Rating: Not Recommended

Since 1976, the Candidate has worked as a general practitioner and has dealt with a broad spectrum of legal issues, including Workers' Compensation, fraud, consumer protection and estate administration. She has served on the Pittsburgh Planning Commission. Her colleagues state she is hard working and well prepared. However, her appellate experience before the Commonwealth Court is very limited. She lacks a record of scholarly writing, teaching and commitment to improving the quality of justice. The Commission also has concerns about whether the Candidate possesses the temperament required of an appellate court judge. Therefore, the Commission does not recommend her as a candidate at this time.

Read the Candidate's questionnaire.

Linda S. Judson - Rating: Recommended

The Candidate has an impressive diversity of work and life experience as well as a strong record as an outstanding practitioner in the area of Workers' Compensation law. The Candidate has worked as a director of risk management for a large construction company, a lawyer for an international insurance brokerage, a non-paid board member and treasurer of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority and a licensed practical nurse. During the past 12 years, the Candidate has specialized in Workers' Compensation law, and she is recognized as a leading practitioner in this area. She is articulate and poised. She presents her ideas in a logical and organized manner. She has good writing skills and a good judicial temperament. She has a strong record of community involvement. The Commission believes the Candidate possesses the character, judicial temperament and skills to serve as a Commonwealth Court judge and recommends her as a candidate.

Read the Candidate's questionnaire.

Judge Patricia A. McCullough - Rating: Recommended

The Candidate worked for eight years as assistant general counsel for the University of Pittsburgh. She also has practiced law as a solo practitioner in Pittsburgh. She has served on the Allegheny County Board of Property Assessment Appeals and Review. The Candidate was appointed as a judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County and served for nine months as a Family Law Court judge. She also served as executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh for a year. The Candidate has an impressive record of community service and is regarded as bright and committed to her work. Although the Candidate's trial court and appellate experience is somewhat limited, the Commission concludes that she would be able to perform satisfactorily as a judge of the Commonwealth Court. (Commission member Shepard recused himself from participation in the evaluation and rating of this Candidate.)

Read the Candidate's questionnaire.

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.

Questionnaires submitted by the November 2009 appellate court candidates participating in the PBA JEC evaluation process, the PBA JEC's evaluation paragraphs and additional information about Pennsylvania's appellate courts are posted on the following Web site: http://www.pavotesmart.com.