Election: Q&A with Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas candidates
Voters on Nov. 7 will elect an attorney to fill a vacancy on the Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas.
Republican Jim Silvis of Unity and Democrat Lisa Monzo of Hempfield are seeking the 10-year term to serve on the county bench.
Silvis is making his second attempt win a judicial seat, having lost in the 2015 primary. Monzo is making her first bid for public office.
Both candidates were asked to respond to three questions about themselves and their race. Here are their answers:
Question: What role can a county judge play in fighting the ongoing drug epidemic in Westmoreland County?
Silvis: “The drug epidemic continues to devastate individuals and families throughout Westmoreland County. While we have yet to find a solution to the problem, judges, along with all members of the community, can play a role in trying to help people struggling with addiction.
“The most important way to resolve the problem is to prevent people from beginning on the path to addiction. Recent studies show that children who are illegally using marijuana or alcohol as 14- or 15-year-olds are much more likely to continue down the path that eventually leads to opiate addiction. Judges must be willing to play a part in going into the community to educate children of the dangers of drugs while also ensuring that parents know how to identify warning signs or drug use by their children.
“Also, judges must be willing to impose sentences that reflect the dangers the drug dealers pose to society. Many people fighting addiction commit property crimes in order to feed their habits. Sentences for these people must also provide them the opportunity to receive treatment.
“There is no easy solution to our drug epidemic, and not everyone will respond to the same type of treatment. We must ensure that there a variety of treatment options available and that people know that these options are available. This is truly a community problem, and as members of the community, judges can play an important role.”
Monzo: “My husband and I have raised two successful children, now 17 and 19. Yet, we have felt the pain of watching families close to us struggle with addiction and loss. It is a parent's greatest fear. The most recent statistics show that Westmoreland County spent $18.8 million dollars in the past year dealing with the opioid crisis. If elected, I would be a judge of action.
“I would suggest a three-pronged approach. First, drug dealers who are coming in to our community and selling heroin should be sentenced swiftly and to the fullest extent of the law. Second, the drug court program, currently overseen by Judge Christopher Feliciani and Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio, has been successful in providing intensive treatment for those who are struggling with addiction. The drug court is looking to expand from 50 participants to 100 and I would help in any way that I could to see that through. Third, in a recent research study done at St. Vincent College, I was stunned to learn that some participants begin using drugs and/or alcohol as early as 5 or 6 years old. It is much less expensive to educate children to prevent the addiction than to pay for incarceration or treatment when they appear before the court. I would suggest implementing drug education at a much earlier age. I would engage the people who have already been fighting this battle for a long time, including detectives in the District Attorney's Office and other community advocates.
“Having introduced and implemented a conflict resolution program, along with a team that included a guidance counselor, teachers and principal in the Hempfield Area School District, I would spearhead efforts to create an education program regarding drug addiction prevention.”
Question: Judges in Pennsylvania are elected by voters but are appointed in other jurisdictions including the federal court system. Should voters continue to elect Pennsylvania judges. If so, why? If not, what is the best way that judges can be selected to serve?
Silvis: “I support our system of the direct election of judges. It provides voters with the opportunity to determine which candidate they think has the necessary legal experience, fairness and commitment to following the law to serve as judge.
“There is often talk of ‘merit selection' of judges as an alternative. While the name itself sounds noble, that process allows for significant politicization of the process of selecting judges. It becomes critical who is chosen for the selection panel and removes power from the people who are most likely to appear before the judge. With the heightened partisanship we see throughout our government these days, I am not in favor of shifting the selection of judges to political appointees.”
Monzo: “Judges make life-altering, long-standing decisions that impact voters' lives every day. These decisions have a ripple effect that resonate throughout the community. Voters should continue to directly impact the selection of judges. Merit selection is a delegation of individual rights to groups of professionals who may not be demographically aligned to understand the unique needs of our community. Voters understand the issues and challenges facing their communities. In addition to strong legal experience, the voter should be able to choose the seasoned candidate, who has a full understanding of the issues confronting the community and the court.”
Question: What about your legal experience and background will make you the better choice to serve as a Common Pleas Court judge in Westmoreland County?
Silvis: “My courtroom experience along with the wide scope of cases I've handled while representing clients have prepared me for the opportunity to serve as Common Pleas Court Judge. Trial experience is important in many ways. It requires a grasp of evidentiary rules, the ability to quickly make important, strategic decisions during trial, and an ability to understand and apply the applicable law. The same can be said for my experience preparing briefs and arguing in front of the Pennsylvania Superior Court.
“During my 15 years of full-time legal practice, I have represented clients in civil, criminal and family courts. I have also spent time in the Public Defender's office and am currently an assistant county solicitor. That diverse background has provided me with the experience necessary to be an effective judge.”
Monzo: “At 51 years of age, I have 25 years of experience as a lawyer, and the breadth of my experience is significant as compared to my opponent. My experience includes eight years in juvenile court; 11 years as an adjunct professor at Seton Hill University; five years practicing for two well-known local firms, Quatrini Rafferty and Belden Law; nine years as a founding member and partner at Galloway Monzo, P.C.; and the great honor of serving as the judicial law clerk to two of Westmoreland County's finest judges, the Honorable Rita D. Hathaway and the Honorable Donetta W. Ambrose.
“Just as significantly, I am a proud wife and mother, and my husband and I have raised two children to adulthood. My community service is and always has been hands-on. I am most proud of being part of a team from Maxwell Elementary School that initiated and implemented a conflict resolution program in the Hempfield Area School District through Project Peace.
“Our firm, Galloway Monzo, P.C., has long been the firm that first responders turn to, and that is reflected by the fact that I'm endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police lodges, representing 20 police departments in Westmoreland County, including the Pennsylvania State Police, Westmoreland County Sheriffs, Westmoreland County Detectives, Westmoreland County Park Police and numerous municipal departments. I am proud to also have been endorsed by the Greater Westmoreland Labor Council and Teamsters Local 30.
“It is important for judges to be able to relate to those who come before them, especially the most vulnerable, and to be able to hear their voice on significant issues. I can assure the citizens of Westmoreland County that I would bring my full commitment to children and families to the bench.”