Eight seek seats on Washington County bench
Eight candidates are seeking two seats on the Washington County Court of Common Pleas.
The seven men and one woman are all cross-filed to seek both the Democratic and Republican nominations in the May 21 primary election.
The vacancies were created by the sudden retirements last year of judges Paul Pozonsky and Janet Moschetta Bell.
Pozonsky, who handled the majority of the county's criminal cases, had served for 15 years and had five years remaining on a 10-year term. Pozonsky resigned June 29, 2012, after the district attorney's office questioned his order to destroy evidence in 17 criminal cases.
He is under investigation by the state Attorney General's Office.
Moschetta Bell announced in November her intention to retire after six years on the bench.
There are currently only four full-time judges. Judges earn $173,271 annually.
Carroll Township resident Alan Benyak, 49, is a private attorney and an honorably discharged major from the U.S. Army Reserves Judge Advocate General's Corps.
He has a bachelor's degree from Waynesburg University, a law degree from Capital University Law School, and attended the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's School.
Benyak has served as special assistant U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey and Eastern District of North Carolina.
“I am the only candidate who has practiced as a military lawyer, federal prosecutor and local attorney, making me best suited for the bench,” Benyak said.
“The law is always changing, and our new judges must be experienced in civil and criminal case law.
“For 20 years, my private practice has focused on seniors, working families and small business owners, so I have practical knowledge about the legal questions and cases that would come before the court.
“As a federal prosecutor, I defended our values. As an Army major who served in the Judge Advocate General's Corps. I have a keen understanding of the issues faced by our service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom end up in the court system.
“Our county had the foresight to create a veterans court to handle these cases, but none of our judges is a veteran. I bring that perspective to the court.”
Blane Black, 57, of South Strabane Township, is a private attorney with a law office in Monongahela.
He received his bachelor's and law degrees from the University of Pittsburgh. Among his qualifications, he is president of the Washington County Bar Association and is former support hearing officer.
Black said he has had experience in all areas of the law during his 32 years in practice.
“My overall experience and temperament sets me apart. I am a former support hearing officer and adjudicated thousands of support cases, the only candidate who has such experience,” Black said.
“The new judges must handle not only criminal matters, but family-related issues as well; I have experience in all facets of the law that the new judges will need. I am ready for the challenge and will not need any on-the-job training.”
Black said he received a rating of either “highly recommended,” or “recommended” in a poll by 77 percent of the responding lawyers of the Washington County Bar Association.
Valarie Costanzo, 43, of Cecil Township, has been a magisterial district judge for 14 years, serving the areas of Cecil Township, McDonald and Robinson.
She received bachelor's and law degrees from the University of Pittsburgh.
She is a former assistant district attorney and private attorney with civil and criminal law experience, and served as president of the Special Court Judges Association of Washington County.
Costanzo said her “judicial experience and temperament,” sets her apart from the other candidates.
“I have presided over hearings about the most heinous criminal acts, and I have demonstrated a professional, calm demeanor in the face of those responsible. My caseload is voluminous, so my courtroom has to be a model of efficiency and professionalism,” Costanzo said. “The people of Washington County know me. They have seen me grow from my days at Canon-McMillan High School, through my time at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, as an assistant district attorney, and most recently as a district judge.
“My knowledge of the law, sense of fairness, even temperament and respectful demeanor have been shown to Washington County every day in my courtroom.
“The other candidates have a wealth of experience between them, but none has presided over both criminal and civil cases as a judge.”
Thomas M. Fallert
Peters Township resident Thomas M. Fallert, 55, is a private attorney.
He received his bachelor's degree from Washington & Jefferson College and his law degree from the University of Pittsburgh.
Fallert said he is a “seasoned trial attorney,” who has practiced in 19 western Pennsylvania counties, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, federal court and three other states.
“I have experience before more than 200 judges and have tried complex cases to verdict in many different counties,” Fallert said.
“I have firsthand experience with many court systems which work well and ones which do not.
“Second, I believe I have the perfect temperament to serve as a judge. I have a calm, professional demeanor and do not become flustered, rattled or unraveled in the face of stress or adversity.
“Third, I am a fresh face in this race, with no strings or ties to any group, special interest or faction in the legal or general community. I believe that these facts, taken in combination, make me the best candidate for judge.”
Charles Kurowski, 60, of Canton Township, is a private attorney.
He received his bachelor's degree from Geneva College and master's and law degrees from Duquesne University.
Kurowski said he does extensive pro bono work – professional work undertaken voluntarily for no fee – for the Washington County Bar Association and has experience handling cases in all areas of the law.
“I represent placing a life-long resident of Washington County on the bench who has served Washington County for over 30 years, who has argued cases before the state Superior and Supreme courts and has created law in Pennsylvania, and who has handled practically every type of criminal and civil case which comes before the court,” Kurowski said in a statement on his website.
“I have been a member of the Washington County Bar over 30 years and come from a hardworking steelworker and coal mining family without blemish of criminal prosecutions.”
Mike Lucas, 45, of Carroll Township, is the county's first assistant district attorney and is an associate with the law firm Bassi, Vreeland and Associates.
He received his bachelor's degree from Washington & Jefferson College and his law degree from Duquesne University.
Lucas said that as lead prosecutor, he has successfully tried and gained convictions in more homicide cases than any other prosecutor in Washington County in the past 15 years. Lucas has tried to verdict civil matters in the state commonwealth courts, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Lucas said he has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police and received the most “highly recommended” votes in a poll of members of the Washington County Bar Association.
“I am not a partisan politician. District Attorneys of both major political parties have appointed me first assistant and relied on me to take to trial the most serious criminal cases tried in our county in the last 15 years,” Lucas said.
“My common pleas court experience includes trying cases to verdict in capital and noncapital cases, in criminal and civil court, to juries and to judges. My pro bono and community service work demonstrate my commitment to a better and safer Washington County. I am ready to serve as your judge.”
Peter V. Marcoline III
South Strabane Township resident Peter V. Marcoline III, 36, is an attorney with Blackwell & Associates.
He received his bachelor's degree from Washington & Jefferson College and law degree from Dickinson School of Law. He studied international law and global intellectual property law at the University of Florence, Italy, and served as a Washington County judicial clerk from September 2002 to April 2004.
As the youngest candidate, Marcoline said he is at the “peak years” of his professional career. Marcoline said he averages more than 100 cases per year, encompassing many areas of the law.
“What really sets me apart from the other candidates is that I view this as an opportunity to work hard for the citizens of Washington County and for the legal system that I love. I am not taking this opportunity as a partial retirement,” he said.
“I want to devote my energy and mental discipline to running a fair and effective courtroom that will benefit all who appear in it. This can be accomplished based upon my diverse legal experience, case load and litigation experience. My work ethic is unparalleled when compared to the other candidates. I possess the ideal temperament to be a judge. I am patient, compassionate, honest, and possess the utmost integrity. I will conduct myself in the same manner when elected.”
Lane Turturice, 39, of South Strabane Township, is an attorney with Berggren & Turturice.
A former Washington County assistant district attorney, he received his bachelor's degree from Washington & Jefferson College and law degree from the University of Pittsburgh. He has been admitted to practice in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania and is a member of the U.S. Supreme Court Bar.
Turturice said he has experience as a trial lawyer and as an advocate resolving cases for clients without going to court.
“The one thing that clearly sets me apart from all the other candidates is my deep-rooted commitment to the protection of our individual liberties and freedoms. Now more than ever, our Second Amendment rights and our right of privacy are under attack from all sides,” Turturice said.
“I will defend and uphold the Constitution and will not legislate from the bench. With the looming countywide reassessment facing our county, my expertise in real estate tax law will be invaluable to me as a judge.
“In my over five years as an assistant district attorney, I learned the ins and outs of criminal law and prosecuted thousands of adult and juvenile cases. I have a real heart for children and families, and I understand the struggles of today's families and youth.”
Stacy Wolford is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-684-2640 or at email@example.com.