3 trying for 1 open seat on Westmoreland Common Pleas Court

Paul Peirce
| Thursday, May 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

With just 12 days left until the primary election, three lawyers vying for one seat on Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court gave their stretch-run pitches at a public forum Wednesday.

Republicans Meagan Bilik DeFazio, 38, and Harry Smail Jr., 47, who both lost bids for judge four years ago, and Democrat William “Bill” McCabe, 57, who is making his first run for a judgeship, want the job to replace retiring Common Pleas Court Judge John Driscoll.

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

Bilik DeFazio of North Huntingdon said family court would be a focus of her judgeship in order to help families reunite and to protect children in bad situations.

She said her age as the youngest of the three candidates could be an advantage on the bench.

“I'll bring a unique perspective to the bench. A courtroom can be an intimidating setting to young people,” she 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.

“As a mother with three young children I'll have a zero tolerance for criminals who prey on children,” Bilik DeFazio said.

McCabe, also of North Huntingdon, noted he is a former full-time county prosecutor and also started his law practice working with the poor at Laurel Legal Service. He touted his 32-year legal career as the most of any of the candidates.

“My parents taught me to give back to the community. I felt a calling to be a judge and this is an opportunity to continue giving back to my community,” McCabe said.

McCabe, the father of two adult children, pledged to treat everyone who appears before him in court with “dignity” and as judge he would not attempt to make new law.

McCabe also noted that he was recently recommended by 88 percent of lawyers who participated in a bar association survey of the three candidates.

In that survey, Bilik DeFazio was recommended by 36 percent of the lawyers while Smail received recommendations from 20 percent of responding attorneys.

Smail of Hempfield told an audience of about 70 people at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg that his law practice is “self made.”

He noted he began 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.

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

“I pledge to administer the law with courage and conviction. I promise to treat those who appear before me in a fair and respectable manner,” Smail said.

Smail, who is married and the father of two girls, repeatedly emphasized he would be a strict constitutionalist and “rule on constitutional law, and not yield to social or political agendas.”

Among the most contentious points at the forum was when moderator John Longo of WCNS radio in Latrobe asked the candidates about challenges facing the county.

Both Bilik DeFazio and McCabe pointed toward the escalating problems related to drug abuse, especially heroin, in recent years and the impact on families. Both candidates said lack of resources for rehabilitation continues to be a problem for county agencies and courts.

Smail countered that “the loss of the family foundation ... the Christian value system” by drug users is of equal concern.

Smail maintained that during his career drug users in rehabilitation programs “usually meet other users” and eventually continue their drug abuse.

“I'm a strict advocate of incarceration” when it comes to drug abuse, Smail said.

The forum was sponsored by the Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce and the bar association.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or ppeirce@tribweb.com.

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