Allegheny County Common Pleas judge races feature both quality, quantity
Fourteen candidates are vying for four open seats on Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, giving voters a difficult choice from a field of well-qualified candidates, political observers said.
“We are fortunate to have so many qualified people running,” said Nancy Patton Mills, chair of the county Democratic Committee.
“It's going to be interesting, that's for sure,” said Jim Roddey, chair of the Republican Committee of Allegheny County.
The candidates include sitting Common Pleas Judges Paul Cozza, 52, of Baldwin Township and Bill Ward, 61, of Mt. Lebanon, both of whom Gov. Tom Corbett appointed last year; city Solicitor Daniel D. Regan, 37, of the North Side, who became a surprise candidate after his boss, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, dropped his re-election bid; and Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli, 45, of Upper St. Clair.
“Everyone in the race is well-qualified and experienced in their own way,” said Patrick Connelly, 45, of Shadyside, one of a dozen attorneys vying for a seat. “It's a large field but a very diverse field.”
On May 21, voters in each political party will select four nominees to run in the November general election. In the primary, candidates for Common Pleas Court can run on Democratic and Republican ballots.
Observers said Cozza and Ward, whom the Senate confirmed last summer, are among the front-runners, since both have experience on the bench.
“Bill Ward is my favorite,” Roddey said of Corbett's former chief of staff. “He's an outstanding lawyer and a person of very high integrity.”
Ward, a former assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District in charge of economic crimes, spent 10 years handling civil and criminal cases in private practice. Then-Attorney General Corbett in 1996 named him his first deputy, a position in which he advised Corbett on criminal prosecutions, civil and consumer protection cases. Ward was chair of the state Parole Board for six years and is the only candidate who is a sitting judge and highly rated by the county bar association.
“Coming in, I was eager to take on any proposition, and I really do enjoy the family division because of the opportunity to make a difference on a daily basis,” Ward said. “I've had kids come back to me and thank me, even in the short time I've been on the bench.”
Cozza “is a real working-class kid who worked hard to be a lawyer and get to the bench,” said state Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills.
A federal judge in 1991 barred Cozza's father, Theodore Cozza — the longtime president of Teamsters Local 211, which represented truck drivers for the Pittsburgh Press — from the labor union for ties to organized crime. Theodore Cozza, twice the target of a federal investigation, died in 1996.
Paul Cozza did not return calls for comment.
“He is a humble individual, which is a characteristic that you don't find often in my profession,” said Pittsburgh attorney Robert Del Greco, Cozza's friend.
The other candidates said their experiences before judges will help them perform well as one.
“I believe I can do more good behind the bench than in front of it,” said Marcia L. Cooper, 50, of O'Hara.
“I'm running to serve on the family court and bring my experience, knowledge and commitment to continue to make a difference for kids and families,” said child welfare attorney Eleanor Bush, 53, of Squirrel Hill.
Marvin Liebowitz, 63, of Squirrel Hill said his experience in many facets of the law is his strongest attribute.
“I have trial and appellate experience, experience as an arbitrator and in dispute resolution,” Liebowitz said.
Barbara Behrend Enrsberger, 61, of Shadyside said she wants to use her knowledge of the law to be more service-oriented.
“Judges give more consideration of all factors of the law, which I think I'm qualified to do,” she said.
Allison Park attorney Rosemary Crawford, 49, said she's running because she wants to make a difference.
“I have a unique perspective and always focus on being fair and not judgmental of people on anything but the law and facts,” Crawford said.
Said Marc Daffner, 44, of Greenfield: “It may sound corny, but things like justice and equality aren't just principles to me. They're the reason I get up every day.”
Jennifer Satler, 37, of the North Side said her age would set her apart as a judge. She is the youngest candidate.
“I can bring a fresh and energetic look, and I'm a good investment,” Satler said.
Civil litigator P.J. Murray, 51, of Upper St. Clair said he's the only candidate from a big law firm who worked full-time as a federal law clerk.
“I think you have to look at the endorsements,” Murray said. “They mean an awful lot.”
The Allegheny County Labor Council and the county Democratic Committee endorsed Murray, Tranquilli, Satler and Cozza. Roddey said the Republican Committee does not endorse candidates at the local level but its members support Ward.
Being a good lawyer is not enough to make a good judge, said Downtown attorney and candidate Joseph V. Luvara.
“Lawyers know the law, but to be a judge you have to have the courage, constitution and wisdom to make hard decisions,” said Luvara, 57, of Carnegie.
Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.