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PBA Judicial Evaluation Commission Releases Ratings for Candidates Seeking to Fill Vacancy on the Superior Court of Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG (Oct. 2, 2009) - The Pennsylvania Bar Association Judicial Evaluation Commission today released its ratings for three candidates seeking to fill a vacancy on the Superior Court of Pennsylvania in the November 2009 election. The vacancy was created by the retirement of Judge Maureen Lally-Green, who left the bench earlier this year to take a position with the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The ratings for the candidates seeking to fill the vacancy are as follows:

Highly Recommended
Judge Teresa Sarmina, Philadelphia County

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.

Judge Paula Francisco Ott, Chester County

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.

Not Recommended
Marakay J. Rogers, York County (for failure to participate)
The Commission issued a "Not Recommended" rating to this candidate for failure to participate in the evaluation process.

Additional Ratings by the PBA JEC

During the upcoming elections, voters also will be filling one seat on the Supreme Court, three additional seats on the Superior Court and two seats on the Commonwealth Court.

Earlier this year, the commission issued ratings for candidates seeking to fill these slots:

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 Robert J. Colville, Allegheny County
Kevin F. McCarthy, Allegheny County
Sallie Updyke Mundy, Tioga County
Templeton Smith Jr., Allegheny County

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania -

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 also released its ratings of one Superior Court judge and one Commonwealth Court judge who are standing for retention in the November 2009 election. The ratings for the retention candidates are as follows:

Superior Court of Pennsylvania -
Recommended for Retention

Judge Kate Ford Elliot

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania -
Recommended for Retention

Judge Dan Pellegrini

The PBA JEC Rating Process for Candidates Filling Vacancies

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.

The definitions for the ratings issued by the PBA JEC are as follows:

  • 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 Rating Process for Retention Candidates

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.

More about the PBA JEC and the PBA

The PBA JEC is chaired by Chris Gillotti of Allegheny County. Joining Gillotti in the leadership of the PBA JEC are Montgomery County lawyer Robert F. Morris as co-vice chair and Erie County lawyer Steven E. (Tim) Riley Jr. 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; and John F. Stoviak of Philadelphia County. Non-lawyer members are Denice Ferranti-Robinson of Fayette County; Jeraldine D. Kozloff of Berks County; James McAfee of Centre County; Susan Sherman of Philadelphia County; John D. Unangst of Delaware County; and Diane Wakefield of Beaver 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.

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