Senior judge to fill-in for Washington Township district magistrate

Chuck Biedka
| Friday, Jan. 6, 2012

A retired judge will fill in for the Washington Township district judge-elect until he passes a state certification test.

Jason Buczak, 35, a Westmoreland County deputy sheriff from Avonmore, won the November election, but must retake the test in order to fill the seat for the district that includes Bell, Loyalhanna and parts of Salem Township as well as Washington Township and Avonmore.

Senior District Judge Bernice McCutcheon is handling cases for Magisterial District 10-3-05 this month until Buczak is certified and takes the oath of office.

Even so, Buczak was listed Thursday on the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania website as the judge for District 10-3-05.

District judge certifications are administered by the state's Minor Judiciary Education Board in Harrisburg.

"This is a difficult course," said Susan Davis, who directs the board. "It's sort of like a condensed law school. It's pretty intense."

Davis refused to describe the test or to give the score of Buczak, who is an elected public official.

She also wouldn't say how many people took the test, or how many failed.

"I can only say we've never have had a class where everyone passes or everyone fails," she said.

"I was told I barely missed on the essay portion of the test," Buczak said.

Don Heagy, who administers district courts in Westmoreland County, said he isn't concerned.

"We anticipate Jason certifying and (being) in office in early February," Heagy said.

McCutcheon said that's what she has heard, too.

"The test is hard," she said. "It includes about four essays."

Buczak said he plans on attending training for new district judges in Harrisburg next week.

He also is registered to retake the test at the end of the month.

Heagy confirmed that recent Westmoreland County sheriff Charles D. Moore, of Scottdale, passed the same test taken by Buczak and has been seated as district judge in the Scottdale area.

Davis said the certification test is given two or three times a year, every other year. District judges also are required to complete 32 hours of continuing education annually.

Additional Information:

What does a district judge do?

District magisterial judges, who serve six-year terms, preside over the arraignment and preliminary hearings of criminal suspects, such as those for drunken driving, burglary and robbery or even murder, in their district unless these people waive their right to a preliminary hearing. When a district judge deems that there is enough evidence, the case is sent to county court for trial.

A district judge also handles civil disputes such as landlord-tenant disputes, delinquency and contract disagreements involving as much as $12,000.

A DJ also listens to evidence and rules on summary criminal cases such as vehicle code offenses, underage drinking, illegal fishing and game law violations. Any appeals are made to county court.

A district judge is paid $82,303 annually plus benefits.


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