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88% of polled lawyers back Dem attorney for Westmoreland judge

| Friday, May 3, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Attorney Bill McCabe received overwhelming support from members of the Westmoreland County Bar Association in his bid to become a county judge.

McCabe, a Democrat from North Huntingdon, was recommended by 88 percent of lawyers who participated in a bar association survey of the three candidates who are vying for one opening on the county bench in the May 21 primary.

All three candidates will appear on both the Democratic and Republican ballots.

Republican Meagan Bilik DeFazio of North Huntingdon was recommended by 36 percent of the lawyers while Republican Harry Smail Jr. of Hempfield received recommendations from 20 percent of responding attorneys.

“I'm extremely gratified and humbled by it,” McCabe said Thursday. “The group of citizens in Westmoreland County who know the most about the candidates are the lawyers, and the lawyers have sent a clear message about who they want to be judge.”

The bar association asked lawyers to rate each candidate as “recommended,” “not recommended” or to note if they had no opinion.

Smail received the highest percentage of “not recommended” responses — 58 percent. Bilik DeFazio was rated “not recommended” on 30 percent of the ballots and McCabe was not recommended by 4 percent.

Bilik DeFazio said the tallies indicate that more than half of the lawyers who had an opinion about her qualifications recommended her for the judgeship.

“People need to look beyond just trial experience. Family court needs someone with energy and passion to protect children and strengthen families,” Bilik DeFazio said.

Smail, recently elected vice president of the bar association, downplayed the survey results in a statement. He said the results were expected to be “skewed to the Democrat candidate.”

“When your first priority in a legal matter is protecting the rights of your clients, you will incite contention in the opposing counsel. As a man of principle I would rather have the recommendation of my clients than opposing lawyers, and the success of my private practice bears this out,” Smail 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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