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Allegheny County judicial candidates speak up

| Saturday, March 2, 2013, 9:51 p.m.

At times Saturday, there seemed to be few differences among the many attorneys seeking the Democratic Committee's endorsement for judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Allegheny County.

Yet, at a candidates' forum at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Law, some managed to stand out.

Eleanor Bush, for instance, earned the biggest laugh of the event when asked to name her least favorite Supreme Court ruling. She cited the 2000 Bush v. Gore case, which effectively ended the tight presidential election won by George W. Bush.

“I detest the results of that case, as well as the fact that my last name is on it,” said Bush, a child welfare attorney, who is not related to the former president.

For two hours, candidates answered questions written by Pitt law students and practicing attorneys from the Oakland and Shadyside Democratic committees. Organizers barred the candidates from delivering stump speeches, and instead instructed candidates to speak only to the questions and keep answers to 60 seconds.

“The format is helpful for voters because they get to see the candidates thinking on their feet,” said Jeann Clark, co-organizer and chair of the Shadyside Democratic Committee.

Fourteen candidates are vying for four open seats; 11 of the candidates attended the forum. The committee will make its endorsement March 10.

Mark Tranquilli, an assistant Allegheny County district attorney, said it is not surprising that the candidates seem similar, particularly at an event that disallows prepared or personal statements.

“We're all good Allegheny County people – in other parts of the country, it's six degrees of separation, but in Pittsburgh, it's two degrees,” he said. “It's no surprise that we have a lot of the same ideas,”

But as the campaign draws on, differences will emerge, he said, particularly when voters learn more about the candidates' personal and professional lives.

Tranquilli carries the highest profile of the candidates. He helped prosecute Ronald Robinson, who in January was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for the shooting death of Penn Hills police Officer Michael Crawshaw, 32, and Richard Poplawski, who shot and killed three city police officers in 2009.

Of course, at a gathering of Democrats, barbs at Republicans also play well.

Take Downtown attorney Marc Daffner: He got a round of laughs when he said his favorite Supreme Court Justice is the conservative Antonin Scalia because his rulings tend to rile, and thus mobilize, Democrats.

Jennifer Satler of the North Side hopes her age will set her apart. At 37, she is the youngest candidate.

“Embrace the youth,” she said. “I can bring a fresh and energetic look, and I'm a good investment.”

Other candidates who attended the forum were: Patrick Connelly, Craig Stephens, Marcia Cooper, PJ Murray, Richard Schubert, Barbara Ernsberger and Marvin Leibovitz. Candidates Paul Cozza, William Caye and Joe Luvara did not show.

Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632 or ctogneri@tribweb.com.

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