3 vie for Westmoreland County common pleas judge's position

| Monday, April 22, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Experience, a focus on family and political ideology are issues that three candidates for Westmoreland County judge said set them apart.

Two Republicans and one Democrat want the job to replace retired Common Pleas Judge John Driscoll.

It's a return engagement for Republicans Harry Smail Jr. and Meagan Bilik DeFazio, who lost in bids for judge four years ago. Democrat William “Bill” McCabe is making his first run for the bench.

All three have cross-filed to seek both the Democratic and Republican nominations in the May 21 primary.

McCabe, a former county prosecutor, works in a litigation practice based in Greensburg that focuses on civil, criminal and family law.

In April, the Westmoreland County Bar Association gave McCabe its President's Award for Professionalism.

He said his 32 years as a practicing attorney exceed the combined legal experience of both his opponents.

“I have found that the best judges are the ones who bring with them their experiences of practicing law. You should have that experience behind you when you take the bench,” McCabe said.

McCabe said that as judge he would not attempt to make new law.

“I'd be a judge who believes that my political beliefs would not be part of my decision making. I would decide every case based on the facts of the case and the law,” McCabe said.

Smail started his law practice in 1998 after working as a county probation officer and earning his law degree in night school. He has served as solicitor for the sheriff's department, clerk of courts and the county Republican Committee.

He said that as a judge he would use a strict interpretation of the U.S. and state constitutions.

“The application of the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment are at the forefront in how I interpret arguments of the litigants,” Smail said. The 14th Amendment contains the equal protection clause and the due process clause, which holds that a government cannot deprive a citizen of life, liberty or property without taking certain steps to ensure fairness.

Smail said he would work to reduce an overcrowded court docket.

“I have the courage of conviction, the character, sense of community and family values with a moral compass based on a Judeo-Christian value system,” Smail said.

Bilik DeFazio previously ran for judge as a Democrat. She changed her party registration last year.

She said she wants family court to be a focus of her judgeship in order to help families reunite and to protect children in bad situations.

“I'll bring a very valuable perspective to the bench as a mother with three kids. My perspective will be an asset there,” Bilik DeFazio said.

She touted her experience since becoming a lawyer in 2000, which included a five-year stint in the county public defender's office, as well as a criminal and civil litigation practice that has recently evolved into a focus on property issues.

Bilik DeFazio said she will not allow political arguments to sway any decisions.

“My oath will be to uphold both the state and federal constitutions in all cases. We are seeing attempts to transform these rights over time. The rights granted to each of us by our founding fathers will be upheld in my courtroom,” Bilik DeFazio said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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