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Ward's judge credentials defended

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
 

A future Allegheny County Common Pleas Court judge said his friendship with Gov. Tom Corbett had no bearing on his nomination to the bench, despite some critics who claimed cronyism.

Bill Ward, 60, of Mt. Lebanon, Corbett's chief of staff from January 2011 until last month, told the Tribune-Review his 35-year career as a prosecutor, criminal defense attorney and civil litigator bolstered his nomination, not his professional and personal relationship with the governor.

“I'm really very excited to not only be serving on the bench, but also to be coming home,” Ward said.

The state Senate confirmed Ward and five other nominations on Saturday. Court administrators are awaiting paperwork from Harrisburg before Ward can be sworn in. He will be paid $169,541 and serve through 2013.

Though Corbett and Ward took a lashing over the nomination, Ward's former colleagues believe he'll make an outstanding judge.

“He has an unshakable integrity and steady hand under pressure,” said Squirrel Hill District Judge Hugh McGough, who interned with Ward at the Downtown law firm Meyer, Unkovic and Scott in the 1970s and became his partner at Ward McGough LLC. “He's an excellent communicator because he's a thoughtful listener first.”

Some outspoken voices against Ward's nomination have slowed their criticism.

“I originally had a lot of concern with him, although my objections were not based on him personally,” said state Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery County, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Leach said he initially opposed the nomination because Corbett and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille agreed not to fill vacancies in courts because of a budget shortfall.

Corbett included an additional $1.1 million for the judiciary in the new state budget.

Shira Goodman, deputy director of the nonprofit Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts in Philadelphia, said that group opposed the ”gentleman's agreement” between Corbett and Castille.

Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley said the governor agreed to not make any appointments for 2011, not 2012. The Tribune-Review could not reach Castille for comment.

Goodman said governors typically nominate candidates with whom they are familiar: “It's not all that unusual the way this played out.”

Legal experts said Ward's experience would have put him on a short list for the bench, regardless of his relationship with the governor.

“He's about as qualified as they get,” said former U.S. Attorney Fred Thieman.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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