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

HARRISBURG (Oct. 2, 2017) — In a few weeks, voters will be deciding whether to retain two justices on the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and one judge on the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. Voters will also be filing 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 is reissuing its ratings and descriptive paragraphs for all appellate judge candidates appearing on the Nov. 7 ballots.

Retention Candidates for the Supreme and Superior Courts of Pennsylvania

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 ratings for the retention candidates are as follows:

  • Justice Debra McCloskey Todd, Supreme Court of Pennsylvania — Recommended for Retention
  • Chief Justice Thomas Saylor, Supreme Court of Pennsylvania — Recommended for Retention
  • Judge Jackie Shogan, Superior Court of Pennsylvania — 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.

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.

Candidates Seeking to Fill One Vacancy on the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

Highly Recommended

Justice Sallie Updyke Mundy, Tioga County

Recommended

Judge Dwayne D. Woodruff, Allegheny County

Candidates Seeking to Fill Four Vacancies on the Superior Court of Pennsylvania

Highly Recommended

Judge Emil A. Giordano, Northampton County

Judge Deborah A. Kunselman, Beaver County

Judge H. Geoffrey Moulton Jr., Montgomery County

Craig W. Stedman, Lancaster County

Recommended

Judge Wade A. Kagarise, Blair County

Judge Maria C. McLaughlin, Philadelphia County

Judge Carolyn H. Nichols, Philadelphia County

Not Recommended

Jules Mermelstein, Montgomery County (for failure to participate)

Mary P. Murray, Allegheny County (for failure to participate)

Candidates Seeking to Fill Two Vacancies on the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

Highly Recommended

Judge Christine Fizzano Cannon, Delaware County

Recommended

Judge Ellen H. Ceisler, Philadelphia County

Paul N. Lalley, Allegheny County

Not Recommended

Irene McLaughlin Clark, Allegheny County

“The information issued by the PBA JEC is available to help voters select the candidates who are best suited to serve as knowledgeable, fair and impartial judges and justices on the appellate courts,” said Robert F. Morris of Montgomery County, chair of the PBA JEC. “The commission only recommends potential candidates who have the legal ability, experience, integrity and temperament to provide satisfactory or outstanding performance as appellate judges and justices.”

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.

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.

Current lawyer members include Richard A. Estacio of Lancaster County, Edward G. Lanza of Dauphin County, Stephanie F. Latimore of Dauphin County, C. Edward S. Mitchell of Lycoming County, Kimberly Denean Moses of Allegheny County, Rhoda Shear Neft of Allegheny County, Denise C. Pekelnicky of Erie County, Howard Alan Rothenberg of Lackawanna County and Su Ming Yeh of Philadelphia County. Current non-lawyer members are Victoria A. Connor of York County, Gregory Cowhey of Philadelphia County, Keith W. Eckel of Lackawanna County, Melody A. Filicky of Fayette County, Edith M. Marino of Lycoming County and Matthew C. Woessner of Dauphin County.

The PBA JEC’s descriptions of its findings for each candidate are below. The candidates’ questionnaires can be found below, as well as in the Media Center of the PBA website at www.pabar.org and the PBA-sponsored voter education website, PAVoteSmart, at www.pavotesmart.com.

Ratings Paragraphs for Retention Candidates

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

Justice Debra McCloskey Todd

Rating: Recommended for Retention

The candidate has served eight years on the Superior Court and ten years on the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. She is a distinguished member of the judiciary and is described as enthusiastic, hard-working, attentive and intelligent. The candidate’s opinions are thorough, concise, scholarly and easily understood, and she carries out her administrative duties with seriousness of purpose. She headed the Elder Task Force which later became Elder Justice in the Courts. The candidate is a member of the Elder Justice Advisory Council serving as its judicial liaison. She is also the court’s liaison to the Veteran’s Courts and the Interbranch Commission on Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness. The candidate’s integrity, legal ability, judicial temperament and commitment to the legal profession serve her well on the bench. The commission recommends her retention.

Read the candidate’s questionnaire: http://www.pabar.org/public/news%20releases/17jec/Todd-Debra-Questionnaire.pdf.

Chief Justice Thomas Saylor

Rating: Recommended for Retention

The candidate has served on the Supreme Court since 1998; he has been Chief Justice since 2015. The candidate is known by attorneys and his colleagues for adhering to the principle that all persons accused of a crime have constitutional rights that should not be diminished. His opinions, which are described as well written, thoughtful and intellectual, provide the reader with a logical path to the conclusion reached. The candidate possesses a unique legal aptitude, leadership abilities and a high degree of integrity that is well suited for the Supreme Court. His judicial temperament is above reproach. For these reasons, the commission believes the candidate should continue his distinguished service to the court and to the public and, therefore, recommends his retention.

Read the candidate’s questionnaire: http://www.pabar.org/public/news%20releases/17jec/Saylor-Thomas-Questionnaire.pdf.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

Judge Jackie Shogan

Rating: Recommended for Retention

The candidate has served as a judge of the Superior Court since 2008. Throughout her career and particularly in her position as judge, she is recognized as possessing a keen grasp of complex legal principles. She has demonstrated sound judgment and possesses excellent judicial temperament. Her opinions are exceptionally well written, concise and thorough. In her role as chair of the court’s Internal Operating Procedures Committee, the candidate is devoted to improving the quality of justice and the efficiency of the court. Her integrity and character are beyond reproach, and she is held in high regard by members of the legal profession who have appeared before her. The candidate has consistently demonstrated all the qualities necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of an appellate judge, and the commission recommends her retention.

Read the candidate’s questionnaire: http://www.pabar.org/public/news%20releases/17jec/Shogan-Jacqueline-Questionnaire.pdf.

Ratings Paragraphs for Candidates Seeking to Fill One Vacancy on the Superior Court of Pennsylvania

Justice Sallie Updyke Mundy

Rating: Highly Recommended

The candidate is presently serving on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, having been appointed in June 2016 to fill a vacancy. After receiving her law degree, she spent one year as a law clerk for a Tioga County Court of Common Pleas judge. For the 10 years following her clerkship, she worked as an associate in firms doing insurance defense litigation, including the defense of professional malpractice claims. She then spent 10 years advocating in the courts for plaintiffs who were catastrophically injured by railroad accidents, defective products and medical malpractice. During the latter part of that time, she also worked as a volunteer public defender in Tioga County. In 2010, she was elected to the Pennsylvania Superior Court where she served with distinction until 2016. During her time as a trial lawyer and as a Superior Court judge, the candidate has expressed respect for the court, attorneys and non-lawyers. Her community service includes work for the PTO and service as a board member of a local charitable foundation. She has been a highly regarded member of both the Superior and Supreme courts. By all accounts, she is respected and liked by other members of both courts. She is well prepared and respectful of attorneys at oral argument and displays a clear understanding of the issues and the rights of the litigants whose cases come before her. Her opinions are clearly written and well reasoned. Because of the depth and diversity of her legal background, the devotion and hard work she has shown at all her endeavors, and her collegiality on the bench, the commission gives her its highest recommendation for her Supreme Court candidacy.

Read the candidate’s questionnaire:

http://www.pabar.org/public/news%20releases/17jec/SallieMundy.pdf

Judge Dwayne D. Woodruff

Rating: Recommended

Since 2005, the candidate has served as a judge of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas where he presides over family and juvenile matters. Upon completion of law school, he was an associate in a large Pittsburgh firm handling product liability and insurance defense. He quickly rose to a level of competence that allowed him to be lead counsel in major cases. He also worked as a certified National Football League player representative. In 1997, he founded his own law firm. He continued to represent professional athletes and handled real estate tax appeals, personal injury and debt collection cases. Most attorneys who appear before him in court describe him as being hard working, well prepared, polite, attentive, and respectful to litigants. The candidate has a strong work ethic and displays a deep respect for his role as a trial judge. He eagerly learned the law in the Family Division, despite the fact that he had no prior experience in that area of the law. He was appointed a member to the Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice, which was created by the Legislature to investigate the circumstances that lead to corruption in the juvenile court in Luzerne County. With few exceptions, his opinions have been described as clear and concise on appellate review and by attorneys. Throughout his career, he has actively participated in charitable organizations and has received multiple awards acknowledging his outstanding work on behalf of national and local community organizations. Because of his strong work ethic and unquestioned integrity, the commission recommends his candidacy for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Read the candidate’s questionnaire:

http://www.pabar.org/public/news%20releases/17jec/DawyneWoodruff.pdf

Ratings Paragraphs for Candidates Seeking to Fill Four Vacancies on the Superior Court of Pennsylvania

Judge Emil A. Giordano

Rating: Highly Recommended

The candidate is an experienced jurist known for his high degree of professionalism, good judicial temperament and reputation for integrity. He is engaging, sincere, intelligent and affable. The candidate is collegial and has the ability to work with others who do not share his opinion or perspective. He has served as a common pleas court judge since 2004 and was retained for a second 10-year term in 2013. He has a broad perspective and wide knowledge of the law, the rules of procedure and the rules of evidence because of his background and experience as a trial lawyer, prosecutor, public defender, municipal solicitor and a sitting judge. His opinions and legal writings are well reasoned. He gained experience addressing the office, personnel and fiscal needs of running a court while serving as an administrative judge for the Orphans' Court and Domestic Relations Section of the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas. The candidate volunteers in his community and teaches about legal topics at local educational institutions. He has demonstrated his commitment to legal and judicial ethics as a member of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Orphans' Court Procedural Rules Committee and Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges. Because of his broad experience as a practicing attorney, proven record of judicial leadership, high ethical standards and dedication to the legal profession, the commission is confident that the candidate would serve with distinction as a Superior Court judge and highly recommends his candidacy.

Read the candidate’s questionnaire:

http://www.pabar.org/public/news%20releases/17jec/EmilGiordano.pdf

Judge Wade A. Kagarise

Rating: Recommended

Elected to the Blair County Court of Common Pleas in 2013, the candidate has presided over a variety of cases, including civil, criminal and family matters. Prior to his tenure on the court, the candidate was the chief deputy district attorney of Blair County on a part-time basis. The candidate also maintained a private litigation practice that focused on family, civil and labor law. Although the candidate has limited time on the bench, the attorneys who practice before him agree that he has developed a judicial demeanor that will serve him well on the appellate court. His opinions are delivered in a timely manner and are well written and researched. The commission believes that the candidate would perform satisfactorily on the Superior Court and recommends his candidacy.  

Read the candidate’s questionnaire:

http://www.pabar.org/public/news%20releases/17jec/WadeKagarise.pdf

Judge Deborah A. Kunselman

Rating: Highly Recommended

The candidate serves as an administrative judge for the Civil Division of the Beaver County Court of Common Pleas. Prior to her tenure on the court, she was a litigator practicing in a variety of areas, including family law and employment discrimination. From 1998 to 2005, she served as Beaver County solicitor. She was elected to the Court of Common Pleas in 2005During her tenure on the bench, she has been responsible for a variety of judicial efficiencies, including clearing up a significant docket backlog. She was also responsible for the implementation of the Beaver County involuntary commitment program for minors requiring drug and alcohol treatment. Her colleagues describe her as professional, knowledgeable, fair and prepared. The candidate has a writing style that is clear and easy to follow. She has extensive community involvement and has taught courses for both professional and lay audiences. Because of her experience as a practicing attorney, extensive teaching experience, proven record of judicial leadership and strong dedication to improving the quality of justice, the commission is confident that the candidate would serve with distinction as a Superior Court justice and highly recommends her candidacy.

Read the candidate’s questionnaire:

http://www.pabar.org/public/news%20releases/17jec/DeborahKunselman.pdf

Judge Maria C. McLaughlin

Rating: Recommended

The candidate has served as a family law judge on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas since 2012. After clerking for a Superior Court judge and graduating from law school in 1992, the candidate began her career with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, where she was assigned to the Child Support Enforcement Unit. In 2003 she was appointed chief of that unit. Since the writing samples she submitted are limited and narrow in scope, the commission is unable to thoroughly evaluate her legal writing skills. She is described as hard working, congenial, dedicated, practical and willing to do what it takes to learn what she needs to know. The candidate is commended as an excellent mentor and for her service to the community. She is noted for her patience and fairness to litigants and lawyers who appear before her. The commission believes she possesses the requisite ability to serve on the Superior Court and recommends her candidacy.

Read the candidate’s questionnaire:

http://www.pabar.org/public/news%20releases/17jec/MariaMcLaughlin.pdf

Jules Mermelstein

Rating: Not Recommended (for failure to participate)

Judge H. Geoffrey Moulton Jr.

Rating: Highly Recommended

The candidate currently serves on the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, having been appointed and sworn into office in August 2016. Prior to his appointment, the candidate’s work history included extensive trial work. He served the commonwealth in the Governor’s Office of General Counsel and in the Office of the Attorney General. Additionally, the candidate’s work history includes the following: associate professor at the Widener School of Law; first assistant U.S. attorney at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania; deputy special inspector general and chief of staff at the Office of the Special Inspector General for Troubled Asset Relief; and chief counsel for U.S. Sen. Edward K. Kaufman. Earlier in his career, he served as a law clerk to Chief Judge Wilfred Feinberg of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and to U.S. Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist. The candidate is highly regarded by those who have interacted with him, including colleagues, lawyers and law students. He has proven himself intelligent, well written, impartial and of the highest integrity. This commission believes that the candidate possesses the highest combination of legal ability, experience, integrity and temperament and, therefore, highly recommends his candidacy for the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

Read the candidate’s questionnaire:

http://www.pabar.org/public/news%20releases/17jec/HMoulton.pdf

Mary P. Murray

Rating: Not Recommended (for failure to participate)

Judge Carolyn H. Nichols

Rating: Recommended

Before being elected to the bench, the candidate worked for the City of Philadelphia Law Department and the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation and maintained a solo legal practice predominantly performing employment law. In 2011, the candidate was elected to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, and since that time has exclusively overseen criminal matters. The candidate’s reputation among her colleagues is one of intelligence, conscientiousness and objectivity. She is known for high ethical standards. Her opinion and legal writings are well reasoned.

The commission initially had concerns that, as a consequence of reposting articles touching on social issues, it could appear as though the candidate were taking a public position on matters that might come before the court. When directly questioned on this issue, the candidate displayed respect for the commission’s concerns and was willing to re-examine her practice. In discussing the issue, the candidate demonstrated a commitment to impartiality and judicial temperament consistent with the highest standards required by the judiciary. Sensitive to the importance of maintaining impartiality, the candidate committed to personally monitor her social media posts during her campaign and to discontinue her use of social media if elected.

Based on the candidate’s strong reputation, experience and judicial temperament, the commission recommends the candidate to serve on the Superior Court.

Read the candidate’s questionnaire:

http://www.pabar.org/public/news%20releases/17jec/CarolynNichols.pdf

Craig W. Stedman

Rating: Highly Recommended

The candidate is the current Lancaster County district attorney. He was elected to the position in 2007 after serving 17 years as an assistant attorney in that office in a variety of leadership roles. The candidate’s practice in the District Attorney’s Office has included the successful prosecution of a variety of crimes, including complex homicide and sexual abuse cases. The candidate has argued before the Superior Court on numerous occasions. As district attorney, the candidate sets the priorities and policies of the office, and, in the exercise of discretion, he exhibits fairness and a commitment to outreach, prevention and education. Under his leadership, the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office has implemented a variety of programs directed at addressing the current heroin epidemic. The commission was impressed with the candidate’s commitment to fairness and his even-keeled temperament, which he attributes to his training in the U.S. Army, where he achieved the rank of captain in military intelligence. While the candidate’s career has been primarily focused on criminal law, the commission is confident of his intellectual capabilities and the ability to transfer legal principles and reasoning to other areas of law required to serve on the Superior Court. The candidate has a strong history of community service in the Lancaster area, which has been primarily focused on crime and safety. Because of his intelligence, commitment to fairness and high ethical standards, the commission highly recommends the candidate for the Superior Court.

Read the candidate’s questionnaire:

http://www.pabar.org/public/news%20releases/17jec/CraigStedman.pdf

Ratings Paragraphs for Candidates Seeking to Fill Two Vacancies on the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

Judge Christine Fizzano Cannon

Rating: Highly Recommended

The candidate has since 2012 served as a judge on the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas where she heads the civil trial section overseeing both civil and equity matters. At the same time, she has served as pretrial judge, responsible for deciding more than 800 motions and petitions. Having graduated from law school with honors, the candidate has continued her legal scholarship by lecturing extensively throughout the commonwealth on various areas of law. The candidate's legal writing is clear, concise and thorough. Her courtroom demeanor has earned the respect of her colleagues as well as that of the attorneys and litigants who appear before her. The candidate's extensive civic activities add depth to her illustrious legal career. The commission believes that the candidate would perform admirably as a judge on the Commonwealth Court and highly recommends her candidacy.

Read the candidate’s questionnaire:

http://www.pabar.org/public/news%20releases/17jec/ChristineCannon.pdf

Judge Ellen H. Ceisler

Rating: Recommended

The candidate has been a judge on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas for nine years. During her first five years, she handled criminal trials. She was then assigned to civil motions and more recently to major civil trials. The candidate has a thorough knowledge of the rules of evidence and courtroom procedures. Prior to her being elected to the bench in 2007, she had a diverse work background, including experience as a prosecutor, investigative producer and litigator. She has served as director of the Integrity and Accountability Office of the Philadelphia Police Department and legal adviser to the Sheriff's Office of Philadelphia. Her judicial temperament is one of fairness, thoroughness, independence and integrity. The candidate has administrative experience, which she gained from serving with the Philadelphia City Controllers' Office as a director of the Special Investigations and Fraud Unit. The commission recommends the candidate for the Commonwealth Court.

Read the candidate’s questionnaire:

http://www.pabar.org/public/news%20releases/17jec/EllenCeisler.pdf

Irene McLaughlin Clark

Rating: Not Recommended

After graduating from law school, the candidate has been employed in a variety of positions handling civil litigation and divorce and custody proceedings. In 1993, the candidate was appointed to the Pittsburgh Municipal Court, where she continued to serve until 2003. Since that time, the candidate served in a variety of positions and maintained a private law practice addressing the problem of municipal blight. Although the candidate’s record demonstrates a commitment to justice and a strong work ethic, she has minimal experience that would lend itself to an appellate court position. The candidate has little courtroom experience as an advocate. Her experience with the rules of evidence and courtroom procedure is limited to the time she served as a Pittsburgh magistrate and Housing Court judge. The candidate candidly admitted that she had very limited experience as a trial or appellate advocate and no experience in writing briefs or opinions. This indicates to the commission that her exposure within the legal system is very narrow. Given the candidate’s minimal experience as outlined above, the commission does not recommend her candidacy for the Commonwealth Court.

Read the candidate’s questionnaire:

http://www.pabar.org/public/news%20releases/17jec/IreneClark.pdf

Paul N. Lalley

Rating: Recommended

Throughout his career as an attorney, the candidate has been held in high regard by his colleagues who describe him as being forthright, intelligent, collegial, scholarly, well prepared and a gentleman. After graduation from law school in 1996, he served as a clerk to a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice and has since been in private practice. He has primarily represented public sector clients in labor and employment matters before state and federal courts and administrative agencies. He also has extensive experience in labor arbitrations and fact-finding hearings and negotiating collective bargaining agreements. He has demonstrated dedication to the improvement of the quality of justice through his extensive lecturing and course planning experience and presentations to statewide organizations, municipalities and school boards. Based upon the candidate’s legal ability, temperament and awareness of the importance of the rule of law, the commission recommends him for the Commonwealth Court.

Read the candidate’s questionnaire:

http://www.pabar.org/public/news%20releases/17jec/PaulLalley.pdf

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 26,000 lawyers who are members of the association.