2 openings exist on Fayette County Common Pleas bench; 5 try for jobs
Five candidates are seeking two openings on Common Pleas Court in Fayette County.
Gerald Solomon and Ralph Warman retired and work as part-time senior judges.
The four Democrats and one Republican are cross-filed to seek both the Democratic and Republican nominations in the May 21 primary.
Democrat Linda Cordaro is a private attorney with a Connellsville law firm and the assistant district attorney assigned to prosecute child abusers.
Cordaro said she brings a different perspective to the bench because she is the only woman running and has, in both her civil law practice and as a prosecutor, gained an understanding of how the courts impact children involved in legal matters.
Cordaro said judges decide family matters daily, whether in civil custody and divorce cases or in criminal actions involving juvenile victims. As a judge, she would advocate for better ways to help children, especially crime victims, navigate through the court system, she said.
“The court system should bend over backwards to accommodate the needs of very young victims so they are not traumatized by the court system when they have to go in and testify,” Cordaro said. “A child should be able to testify through closed-circuit television so the child does not have to sit in the same room as the person who assaulted him or her.”
Joseph George Jr.
Democrat Joseph George Jr. is a district judge and has a private law practice in Uniontown.
George said he supports creation of specialty courts that aim to rehabilitate nonviolent offenders who belong to specific groups, such as veterans or alcohol and drug abusers.
“I would support a drug treatment court as long as it was not for drug dealers, but rather for individuals suffering with addiction that could potentially assist them in rehabilitation and reducing recidivism,” George said.
Of the five candidates, George was rated the most highly qualified for judge in a Fayette County Bar Association survey of 71 attorneys. A former assistant district attorney, George said he is the only candidate who has judicial experience because of his work as a district judge.
“It's that combination of the civil, criminal and judicial that makes me uniquely qualified,” George said.
Democrat Jack Purcell said in 29 years as an attorney, he has handled civil and criminal matters, appellate work at the state and federal level, administrative law and trials, among others.
Purcell said specialty criminal courts that deal with specific groups of offenders will become more common, as will civil cases involving complicated matters, such as those arising from the Marcellus shale industry.
“We have the old problems of substance abuse and new problems with issues with mineral rights and estates,” Purcell said. “You will have more and more complicated civil litigation as well, and with the problems our courts are going to have to deal with, I have the background, knowledge and experience in the areas that are going to be needed as we move forward.”
Democrat Douglas Sepic is an assistant district attorney.
Sepic said he has tried more than 250 jury trials, giving him the experience needed to determine fairly complicated issues, such as rules of evidence.
“Our judges spend a minimum of one week a month on the bench handling jury trials,” Sepic said. “I spend my days in the courtroom handling the kinds of cases that judges do, so it's important to have someone on the bench who has that kind of experience.”
Sepic said, if elected, he will advocate for consistency in the courtroom, especially in judicial assignments. He said the same judge should be assigned to hear all domestic abuse cases, for example, to ensure the same standards are applied to all cases.
“By having different judges hearing the cases, it's an inconsistent degree of what constitutes a violation,” Sepic said. “There needs to be consistency for the sake of the victims.”
Republican Steven Walton is a Fayette County native who recently moved back to Menallen.
Walton said he has no ties to Fayette law firms. “My practice centers on clients primarily outside of Fayette County,” Walton said. “One of the key requirements of a judge is impartiality, and I can take to the bench without any preconceived notions.”
Walton said he favors “problem solving” courts that work with targeted groups, such as veterans and those with drug and alcohol problems. He said he will work with the district attorney's office and service providers to develop alternative sentencing methods aimed at rehabilitating offenders, not just incarcerating them.
On the civil side, Walton said his work with oil and gas litigation has prepared him for challenges the courts will face with the growing Marcellus shale gas industry.
“We need judges who have experience and can analyze highly complicated documents and write opinions clear enough to be followed that won't be attacked by other groups throughout the commonwealth,” Walton said. “We've already seen seminal decisions that started in Fayette County and ended up in higher court, so Pennsylvania will be relying on court decisions that come out of Fayette County.”
Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.