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2 judges up for 3rd 10-year terms

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Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011

Westmoreland County voters on Tuesday will decide whether Common Pleas Court judges Richard E. McCormick Jr. and Debra A. Pezze will serve another 10-year term on the bench.

Both judges were first elected in 1991 and retained in 2001. Voters will simply vote "yes" or "no" on whether each should be retained. Both worked as assistant public defenders.

McCormick, 61, of Greensburg, the son of a county judge, spent most of his career hearing criminal cases. He has served in the civil court division for the past two years. McCormick was appointed to the bench in 1990 to fill a vacancy.

"I have gained a level of experience and maturity in the job for the benefit of Westmoreland County," McCormick said.

Pezze, 57, of Greensburg said her job experience is also a plus for voters. She has served nearly her entire career in the criminal court division.

"I've worked in the criminal justice system for 35 years, and my record speaks for itself," Pezze said.

A Tribune-Review analysis in 2009 of Pennsylvania judges' sentences in cases involving sex crimes against children found Pezze imposed sentences below state averages.

Pezze said those statistics were skewed because they reflected plea bargain deals negotiated by county prosecutors.

McCormick became a target of then-Attorney General Tom Corbett when a spokesman for that office criticized the judge for imposing what prosecutors said was a too-lenient sentence in a sex case involving a Delmont man and an undercover officer posing as a teenage girl on the Internet.

Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck and the county bar association came to McCormick's defense and called Corbett's criticism unwarranted.

"I respect the course of law. It was not the attorney general who made those comments, but it was his spokesman," McCormick said.

Pezze also has been the subject of criticism. A website was created detailing several of her rulings that critics deemed questionable.

Pezze said such scrutiny comes with the job.

"I'm in a job that invites criticism. My decisions are based on law and evidence. I've never had a sentence overturned," Pezze said.

Pezze is married to longtime county commission Chairman Tom Balya, a Democrat who is leaving office at the end of the year. Balya has served as commissioner for 16 years.

"Tom has been a lightning rod for a lot of that criticism against me," Pezze said.

Local lawyers have endorsed both judges for new terms.

In a survey that drew responses from 251 members of the Westmoreland County Bar Association, 96 percent supported retention for Pezze and 93 percent supported another term for McCormick.

Additional Information:

Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas

Term: 10 years

Salary: $164,602

Richard E. McCormick Jr.

Age: 61

Hometown: Greensburg

First elected: 1991

Debra Pezze

Age: 57

Hometown: Greensburg

First elected: 1991

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