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Allegheny County president judge puts daughter in $56,500 post

| Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012

For Allegheny County's president judge, the courts are a family affair.

Common Pleas Judge Donna Jo McDaniel promoted her daughter Lindsay Hildenbrand to a newly expanded job as supervisor of jury operations in November at a salary of $56,511.

Hildenbrand, 41, of Moon fills an opening that occurred when her predecessor retired in May. Court officials expanded it to include more supervisory authority as they combine criminal and civil jury administration.

The judge promoted Hildenbrand from her job as McDaniel's executive assistant, a position that paid $54,960. Another daughter, Jamie Quigley, 34, of Ohio Township, who was the judge's tipstaff, will handle the role of tipstaff and executive assistant. Her salary is $54,232.

McDaniel, 65, of Sewickley joined the bench in 1985 and makes $172,382 a year. She declined to talk about the promotions or the changes in jury management.

"I was asked to do this job. They wanted me to be involved when the new system is in place," said Hildenbrand, a court employee since May 2000. "I hardly see (McDaniel) or talk to her (during the workday). She has other things she needs to worry about."

Hildenbrand's and Quigley's husbands have court-related jobs.

Brian Quigley, 33, who worked in the criminal division jury room, received a new title of assistant director of jury operations at the start of this year, although his salary remained at $50,395. He was hired in June 2004. Girard Hildenbrand, 46, is a supervisor of costs and restitution in the county pretrial services department. He was hired in April 1999 and makes $57,787 annually.

Shira Goodman, deputy director of Philadelphia-based Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said officials should consider policies governing the hiring of relatives.

"It's not illegal, and it's not precluded by ethical rules. But as a matter of modern professionalism, it's kind of out of date," Goodman said. "A lot of businesses and law firms have anti-nepotism policies. It promotes the idea of professionalism -- not only the reality but the perception that people get promoted because they were qualified and not because they were connected to someone."

The state Judicial Code of Conduct states in part that judges "should exercise their power of appointment only on the basis of merit, avoiding favoritism."

"My feeling is that if a family member is qualified, I don't think it should matter, especially employees of close trust," said University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff. "It may be well that there's a line where one is OK; two is nerve-wracking; three, four, you start to worry about appearance problems."

Lindsay Hildenbrand fills the position of Geralyn Dugan, who made $55,270. It's unclear whether officials interviewed other applicants or advertised the position.

After a voter referendum in 2005 eliminated the two elected jury commissioners, the jury assignment rooms for criminal courts in the county courthouse and civil cases in the City-County Building operated separately under the direction of administrative judges. They filled jury boxes for 265 trials in 2010, the most recent data available.

Hildenbrand will oversee the implementation of a computer system and supervise nine people as head of the Office of Jury Management.

"It's our goal to make sure we're implementing the best practices and to make sure we're using all jurors efficiently," said deputy court administrator Claire Capristo. "Before, there was a disconnect between the Office of Jury Management and the assignment rooms. Now it's a much more fluid system."

Additional Information:

Family ties

Other Allegheny County judges employ relatives on their staffs:

• Judge Terrence O'Brien: Tipstaff, brother, Killian O'Brien, salary $40,844

• Judge Joseph James: Tipstaff, son, David James, salary $38,521

• Judge Donald Machen: Law clerk, wife, Hollie Bernstein, salary $40,735

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