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Westmoreland County will have fewer judges

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Thursday, May 9, 2013, 7:39 p.m.
 

The state Supreme Court Thursday formally approved a plan to reduce the number of district judges in Westmoreland County from 17 to 16, starting in 2018.

The court approved a proposal recommended last year by a panel of Westmoreland County officials, judges and district judges that will eliminate Unity Township District Judge Michael Mahady's current district, effective Jan. 1, 2018.

The plan was suggested to reduce costs but was opposed by officials in all three municipalities covered by Mahady — the City of Latrobe, Unity Township, and Youngstown Borough.

Those municipalities unsuccessfully asked the county to reconsider its plan, citing an increasing volume of cases at Mahady's office, the district's size and increasing population, plus the convenience of the centralized office.

Mahady's office along Route 981 between Latrobe and Route 30 covers a region of central Westmoreland County with a population of 31,270, or about 9 percent of the county's total population. The office serves a retail-trade area of more than 50,000 people.

Under the new redistricting plan, cases from Latrobe will be handled by Derry Township District Judge Mark Bilik. Cases from the Unity voting districts of Baggaley, Beatty, Dorothy, Gravel Hill, Lloydsville, Pleasant Unity, Roble and Whitney will be heard before Ligonier District Judge Denise Snyder Thiel, under the order.

Hempfield District Judge James Falcon's office, just outside of Youngwood, will handle cases from the Unity voting districts of Crabtree, Denison, Kuhn, Marguerite and Mutual.

Under the plan, cases in the municipalities of Donegal Township and Donegal Borough, which are now under Thiel's jurisdiction, will be heard by Mt. Pleasant District Judge Roger Eckels.

Cases in New Stanton Borough and the New Stanton voting district of Hempfield Township, which are now under Falcon's jurisdiction, will be transferred to the office of Scottdale District Judge Chuck Moore.

Court administrator Paul Kuntz has said the state Supreme Court wanted counties to cut the number of district judges' offices by 10 percent.

Mahady will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 2017. His office would close after he retires.

For many years, Latrobe had its own district judge, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1992 ordered the office of District Judge Angelo Caruso in Latrobe to merge with Mahady's office.

The Supreme Court was acting on a recommendation of then-President Judge Charles Marker, who cited a reduced case load in the Latrobe office as a reason for that consolidation.

Latrobe appealed that order to county officials, but also to no avail. Caruso's office was closed in January 1998.

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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