2003 JEC Ratings

HARRISBURG (Oct. 6, 2003) – To educate voters about the statewide appellate judicial candidates running for election and the appellate judges who are standing for retention in the Nov. 4 general election, the Pennsylvania Bar Association Judicial Evaluation Commission (PBA JEC) today re-issued its ratings and descriptive paragraphs about the candidates and judges. Judicial candidates were eligible to receive a rating of "Highly Recommended," "Recommended" or "Not Recommended." Because retention elections require only a "Yes" or "No" vote of the public, the Commission rates retention candidates either as "Recommended" or "Not Recommended."

The ratings are:

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania:

Judge Max Baer, Allegheny County: Highly Recommended

Judge Joan Orie Melvin, Allegheny County: Highly Recommended

Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Justice Ronald D. Castille: Recommended for Retention

Superior Court of Pennsylvania:

Grainger Bowman, Esq., Cumberland County: Highly Recommended

Judge Palmer Dolbin, Schuylkill County: Recommended

Judge John J. Driscoll, Westmoreland County: Recommended

Susan Gantman, Esq., Montgomery County: Recommended

Judge Seamus McCaffery, Philadelphia County: Recommended

Judge Jack Panella, Northampton County: Highly Recommended

Judge of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania Joseph A. Del Sole: Recommended for Retention

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania:

Judge of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania James Gardner Colins: Recommended for Retention


Editor's Note: The descriptive paragraphs are below. Redacted copies of the questionnaires submitted by the candidates can be obtained from the PBA.


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.

For the 2003 election, there will be a total of four open seats at the appellate level, with one vacancy on the Supreme Court and three vacancies on the Superior Court. There are three appellate judges standing for retention: one on the Supreme Court, one on the Superior Court and one on the Commonwealth Court.

"The PBA JEC is extremely pleased with the high level of interest shown by potential candidates and appellate judges to participate in our evaluation process," said Philadelphia lawyer Michael A. Bloom, chair of the PBA JEC. "We are firmly committed to the notion that lawyers have a duty to recommend to the public the very best candidates for judicial office, so that all of us can be assured of having the very best judges on our appellate court."

The PBA JEC based its ratings for each candidate on a two-part evaluation process. Investigative panels conducted the first phase of the process through personal interviews with the candidates and with individuals who have had professional or personal dealings with them. Upon completion of the interviews, 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.

Serving with Bloom in the leadership of the PBA JEC is New Castle lawyer Richard E. Flannery as vice chair. Lawyer members include Samuel T. Cooper III of Dauphin County; Chris F. Gillotti of Allegheny County; Lucille Marsh of Lackawanna County; John R. McGinley Jr. of Allegheny County; Steven E. "Tim" Riley Jr. of Erie County; Jeffrey Rotwitt of Philadelphia County; Kathryn Lease Simpson of Dauphin County; John F. Stoviak of Philadelphia County; and Louis N. Teti of Chester County. Lay members are Ann Amore of Montgomery County; Christine James-Brown of Philadelphia; Pamela J. Mayer of Westmoreland County; Jane G. Pepper of Delaware County; Lawrence J. Rhoades of Westmoreland County; and R. Thomas Williamson of Lawrence County.

The Pennsylvania Bar Association is a professional organization that represents 27,000 lawyers across the commonwealth.


Judge Max Baer
Supreme Court
Rating: Highly Recommended

The Candidate has been a member of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County since December 1989. While on the Court, he has served in the Juvenile, Family and Civil Divisions. Within the Family Division, from 1993 until 1999, he was the Administrative Judge responsible for many of the key reforms that changed the face of that court. These changes included the creation of a new home for the Family Division in the former Allegheny County Jail, an increase in the number of judges in the division, the creation of the position of hearing officer, the adoption legal services project, court appointed special advocates, improvements in background checks, one judge - one family assignments, night court, and pro se motions court, among other innovative initiatives. He has written extensively about family court issues. In the Civil Division, he has a reputation for being able to handle tough cases fairly and appropriately. The Candidate's legal opinions have been described as intellectual, meaty and informative. He clearly possesses the requisite legal analysis and scholarship required of an appellate court judge. Moreover, the Candidate has developed a record as an innovator, problem solver and a student of public policy. The Commission believes that the Candidate is capable of outstanding performance as a Justice of the Supreme Court and highly recommends him for that position.

Judge Joan Orie Melvin
Supreme Court
Rating: Highly Recommended

The Candidate has the noteworthy history of having served on three levels of the judiciary; Magistrate's Court in Pittsburgh, the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas and the Pennsylvania Superior Court. She has served with distinction in each of these courts. As a city magistrate, she created and implemented a Domestic Violence Court which has become a model for similar courts across the country. In the Common Pleas Court, she earned a reputation as a hard-working, dedicated and well-respected judge, known uniformly to be fair, considerate and unbiased. During her tenure on the Superior Court, she has extended her reputation for hard work, good judicial temperament, and legal scholarship. She also has continued her interest in judicial administration, most notably by encouraging and advancing procedures to expand the number of published opinions. Her broad experience, outstanding and well-earned reputation and her history of innovation in matters of the administration of justice and furtherance of the legal process make her an outstanding candidate for the position of Justice of the Supreme Court.

Justice Ronald D. Castille
Supreme Court
Rating: Recommended for Retention

A highly decorated Vietnam veteran, Justice Castille was elected to the Supreme Court in 1993, after having served as an Assistant District Attorney since 1971 and the elected District Attorney of Philadelphia County from 1986 to 1991. During his ten years on the bench, Justice Castille has established a reputation in the legal community for being well-prepared, intelligent, fair, and courteous toward counsel. He has demonstrated the highest level of integrity, adherence to principle, and proper judicial temperament. His opinions are thoughtful and well-researched. He has continued to remain involved in numerous public activities while serving on the Supreme Court, and has been recognized and honored by both legal and community organizations for his public service and commitment to improving the quality of justice for Pennsylvania's citizens. He has demonstrated all of the qualities requisite to a Justice of the Supreme Court and has fulfilled with conscientiousness his responsibilities on the Court during his term. Without doubt, he has earned the right to be retained as a Justice of the Commonwealth's highest court.


Grainger Bowman, Esquire
Superior Court
Rating: Highly Recommended

The Candidate has extensive experience in both State and Federal court. He has practiced law since 1972 and has enjoyed a diverse career. He has served as an Assistant District Attorney, an Assistant Legal Officer in the Judge Advocate Corps, a law clerk instructor and practitioner. This Commission previously rated the Candidate as Highly Recommended for an open position on the Commonwealth Court. The Commission believes that the skill sets that resulted in the Candidate's receiving this rating for the Commonwealth Court are transferable to the Superior Court and that the Candidate's qualities of judicial temperament, legal ability, independence and fairness that were found to exist in his earlier candidacy are applicable equally here. His fellow practitioners give the candidate exceptional recommendations for civility, confidence, fairness, integrity and industry. His writing is persuasive, erudite and thorough. The Commission believes that the Candidate would serve with distinction on the Superior Court.

Judge Palmer Dolbin
Superior Court
Rating: Recommended

The Candidate has served on the Court of Common Pleas in Schuylkill County for almost twelve years, and during his tenure he has earned a reputation of being an excellent jurist. His service on the court, in addition to his prior experience in private practice and as an Assistant District Attorney, has provided him with a breadth of experience and knowledge of the law particularly suited for service on the Superior Court. Judge Dolbin is well respected and he is regarded as conscientious, honest, diligent, decisive, and fair. His extensive legal knowledge, his keen intellect, and his unbiased temperament, as well as his proven judicial ability, all are qualities that the Commission believes will enable Judge Dolbin to fulfill the demanding responsibilities of a Superior Court Judge.

Judge John J. Driscoll
Superior Court
Rating: Recommended

The Candidate has served as a member of the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County since 1994. He then was elected to a ten-year term in 1995. The Candidate has extensive experience in areas of law that are within the jurisdiction of the Superior Court. He has served in the Family, Criminal and Juvenile Divisions of the Court of Common Pleas. Before his appointment as a Judge, the Candidate practiced law and served as District Attorney. His private practice involved civil litigation as well as the representation of individuals and businesses in a general practice. As District Attorney, Judge Driscoll developed solid administrative and managerial skills. Members of the bar who have appeared before him give him high marks for judicial temperament, work ethic and a good grasp of legal issues. The Candidate exhibits a competent, concise and clear writing style in his opinions. He shows a dedication to the people of Pennsylvania and a heartfelt desire to serve their interests. By education, training, experience and temperament, Judge Driscoll would be suited to serve on the Superior Court.

Susan Gantman, Esquire
Superior Court
Rating: Recommended

The Candidate's background includes a combination of experience and knowledge which provide her with the credentials necessary to serve on the Superior Court. She has served as a law clerk, Assistant District Attorney in Montgomery County, lecturer, borough solicitor and practitioner in the private practice of law with an emphasis in domestic relations and juvenile and business law. She also has served as legal consultant to the Montgomery County Office of Children and Youth for many years. The Candidate has developed an excellent reputation for professionalism, even-handed temperament, as well as an extensive record of community involvement. She both articulates her positions and writes in a clear, thoughtful and persuasive fashion. Her professionalism, integrity, innate fairness, demeanor, enthusiasm and background enables the Commission to conclude that she would be well suited to serve on the Superior Court.

Judge Seamus McCaffery
Superior Court
Rating: Recommended

Judge McCaffery currently serves as the Administrative Judge of the Philadelphia Municipal Court to which he was first elected ten years ago. His life story is compelling and includes service in the military, a twenty year career as a Philadelphia police officer and a stint as a litigation associate at a large Philadelphia law firm. During his tenure on the Municipal Court, he has been appointed to hear cases in the Court of Common Pleas and has presided over both civil and criminal jury trials. As Administrative Judge of the Municipal Court, he has established innovative programs designed to improve the quality of justice and to better serve the public. Judge McCaffery's direct demeanor and decisive manner serve him well in his current position. He is regarded as having impeccable integrity and adequate, if not very good, writing skills. The Commission believes that Judge McCaffery would bring an energetic presence and common sense approach to the work of the Superior Court and therefore recommends his candidacy.

Judge Jack Panella
Superior Court
Rating: Highly Recommended

The Candidate has served as a Court of Common Pleas Judge in Northampton County since 1991. He was appointed in 1991 and elected to a ten-year term in 1993. The Candidate also previously served a full four-year term, from 1997 to 2001, as Associate Judge and President Judge of the Court of Judicial Discipline for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Prior to becoming a judge, the Candidate was in private practice in Northampton County and he served as Northampton County Solicitor from 1987 to 1991 when he was appointed to Judge of the Court of Common Pleas. The Candidate is articulate, poised and very bright. He has a no-nonsense style that is highlighted by his highly responsive answers to various inquiries. The Candidate has demonstrated his judicial temperament during his tenure on the bench in Northampton County and he has demonstrated his administrative skills through his effective handling of a heavy and complex asbestos litigation docket. The Candidate also has had meaningful involvement in all substantive areas of law that regularly are addressed by the Superior Court. The Candidate's combination of demonstrated judicial skills, intellect and judicial temperament qualify him for Highly Recommended rating.

Judge Joseph A. Del Sole
Superior Court
Rating: Recommended for Retention

Judge Del Sole has a long and distinguished tenure on the Pennsylvania Superior Court. He first was elected to the Court in 1983 and was retained for a second ten-year term in 1993. He currently is serving as President Judge of the Superior Court having been elected to that position by his judicial peers. He enjoys an excellent reputation in the legal community for his keen intellect, professionalism, energy, essential fairness and unquestioned integrity. His legal opinions demonstrate a sharp legal mind and are well-reasoned and clearly written. Even parties who have been unsuccessful when arguing before Judge Del Sole have acknowledged that his opinions are well-reasoned, even-handed and thorough. Moreover, his warmth and generous spirit are appreciated by lawyers who appear before him. He has demonstrated the administrative skills necessary to manage one of the busiest intermediate appellate courts in the United States. His commitment to enhancing the quality of justice, his legal scholarship and his experience and skill should permit him to continue to serve with distinction on the Superior Court.


Judge James Gardner Colins
Commonwealth Court
Rating: Recommended for Retention

Judge Colins has served with distinction on the Commonwealth Court since he first was elected in November 1983. He was retained by the voters for a second term in November 1993. He was elected to serve a five-year term as President Judge of the court from 1994-1999 and was elected to a second 5-year term as President Judge in January 2002. He is regarded as an able and apolitical administrator on a well-functioning court with a history of collegiality among its members. Judge Colins possesses strong legal and analytical abilities that are evidenced by the piercing questions he poses to counsel which inevitably are calculated to reach to the heart of the matter. He is recognized as fair, impartial, even-tempered and respectful of counsel. He possesses a refreshing sense of humor that he often uses to put counsel at ease. His written opinions reflect both strong legal analysis and excellent writing. His integrity is beyond reproach. He is uniformly well regarded and well respected by lawyers who appear before him. For these reasons, the Commission recommends that Judge Colins be retained as a Judge of the Commonwealth Court.