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Ward wants chance to make difference in family court

| Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 8:58 p.m.
Common Pleas Judge Bill Ward of Mt. Lebanon is running for a 10-year term on the bench. Before Gov. Tom Corbett appointed him last year to fill a vacancy in the court, Ward was chief of staff to Corbett; a trial attorney; chairman of the state Board of Probation and Parole; deputy attorney general; and an assistant U.S. attorney.

Bill Ward heard from fellow lawyers about the despair they encounter in family court.

“I sensed on the juvenile court side there was dysfunction, but I had no idea the depth — among the families,” said Ward, 61, of Mt. Lebanon, a candidate for Allegheny County judge who joined the bench last year when Republican Gov. Tom Corbett appointed him to fill a vacancy.

“Most of my career I've spent in the criminal justice system. The biggest surprise for me was the level of dysfunction and despair,” Ward told the Tribune-Review.

He said in his first week in juvenile court he took a child away from an 18-year-old mother who is a dependent of the state, and gave custody to the father, who also was 18 and a dependent.

“But I have a chance to make a difference,” said Ward, a Republican who broke up political service in Corbett's office and on the state Board of Probation and Parole with years of trial experience. He is one of 13 candidates for Common Pleas judge.

In less than a year on the bench, Ward has followed two pursuits about which he is passionate. The father of an autistic son, Ward is working with officials to develop a statewide strategy for dealing with children with behavioral issues in the criminal justice system.

He also volunteers to hear cases in the county's Veterans Court program once a week. His nephew, who recently returned from Afghanistan, and his father and brother are veterans.

“It's my way of acknowledging them,” Ward said.

On the issues:

What's the top issue facing the court? “In the Family Division, we have huge numbers of cases, but we're getting the job done. Other divisions have to deal with delays, particularly the Civil Division.”

How do you keep political donations by lawyers from affecting decisions from the bench? “I don't know the amount of those donations.”

Should judges hire family members? “I am opposed to the hiring of family members in court.”

David Conti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5802 or dconti@tribweb.com.

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