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Governor again nominates Ward to Allegheny County bench

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By Adam Brandolph
Friday, June 20, 2014, 12:12 p.m.

Eight months after Allegheny County voters knocked Bill Ward off the Common Pleas Court bench, Gov. Tom Corbett on Friday again nominated him to fill the position.

Ward, 62, of Mt. Lebanon served in the court's Family Division from June 2012 until January. He lost in the general election in November 2013.

If the state Senate approves his nomination, Ward would fill the vacancy left by Judge Joseph James' retirement last June. He would have to run for election in 2015 to serve a full 10-year term.

“I look forward to the opportunity to return to the bench,” Ward said.

A longtime friend of the governor, Ward served as Corbett's chief of staff from January 2011 until May 2012, and served as an adviser until the state Senate confirmed his nomination the following month. He previously chaired the state Board of Probation and Parole and worked as a deputy attorney general and assistant U.S. attorney.

Despite being given a rating of “highly qualified” by the Allegheny County Bar Association, Ward, a Republican, finished fifth out of six candidates running for four seats in the November election.

Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a nonpartisan group that advocates in favor of appointing judges rather than electing them, said contested judicial races often turn on factors other than qualifications, such as how much money candidates raise, name recognition, where their name appears on the ballot and what political party is dominant in the race.

In Allegheny County, Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-1, according to the county Elections Division.

“So just because someone loses doesn't mean that person wouldn't make a good judge,” Marks said. “Although it might not look good when a governor nominates a top official to a seat on the bench, it doesn't mean that the person wouldn't be a fine judge.”

Once elected, Common Pleas judges face a yes-or-no retention vote every 10 years. Their salary this year is $173,271.

Ward's nomination for judge was among 13 the governor made statewide, including those of lawyers Harry F. Smail, 48, of Greensburg and David A. Regoli, 49, of Lower Burrell for seats on the Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court.

“I am confident that these nominees will serve the commonwealth with honor and distinction,” Corbett said in a statement.

A spokesman for the governor's office did not return calls about Ward's appointment.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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