Vacancies a predicament for county court
More than a third of Westmoreland County's Common Pleas Court will be vacant by next summer with the early retirement of three judges.
The vacancies, which cannot be filled before the next round of judicial elections in the fall of 2015, will leave local court officials struggling to cover the more than 13,000 new criminal, civil and family court cases filed each year.
“We don't know what we are going to do if there are no (gubernatorial appointments),” court administrator Paul Kuntz said.
Judges in Pennsylvania are required by state law to retire at 70.
Westmoreland County Judge John Blahovec, 62, will retire in early January after serving three decades on the bench. In April, President Judge Gary Caruso, 65, will leave the court. Caruso and Blahovec were both elected in 1985.
Judge Al Bell, 66, said he will retire from the 11-judge court next summer.
Gov. Tom Corbett could appoint replacements, although he has refrained from doing so in other jurisdictions to reduce a financial shortfall in judicial funding.
In an email, Corbett spokesman Morgan Wagner said it is critical that the court system be adequately staffed.
“We are aware of several vacancies in the Court of Common Pleas and, in consultation with numerous entities including those in the judicial branch, we will make a determination if there is a need for judicial nominations,” Wagner wrote.
Caruso said he wants to lobby Corbett to make appointments.
“With the volume of cases we have, it requires we have more judges,” Caruso said. “If we don't get appointments, we'll have to look to the Supreme Court to allow us to use senior judges.”
The court could be further shorthanded as Judge Debra Pezze has been on an indefinite medical leave since last fall and her return date has not been determined.
Four judges work in the criminal and family court divisions. Three judges are assigned to civil court.
With next year's retirements, court officials expect the civil court division to operate with just two judges.
Kuntz said some initial shifting of assignments early next year will fill some of the void.
In January, Judge Richard E. McCormick Jr. will rotate back to criminal court after serving a handful of years in the civil court division.
Judge Chris Feliciani, who has spent his first 10 years on the bench in family court, will move to civil court.
Meagan Bilik DeFazio, who will take office in January, will assume a seat in the family court division.
Kuntz said Senior Judge John Driscoll, who retired last year and has been presiding over a full caseload in family court, will continue those duties into 2014.
Blahovec is expected to take on some limited criminal court assignments early next year as a senior judge.
“There are some things that we'd like to do that we can't do, like drug court,” Kuntz said. “We could probably start a drug court if we get an appointment or two.”
County and court officials have looked to create a drug court program that is designed to help curb the burgeoning drug addiction problem in the county.
Caruso said funding for the proposed drug court has yet to be secured.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Derry Township man killed when ATV flips
- Renovations a go on historic La Rose building in downtown Greensburg
- Ligonier water shutoff delayed slightly
- Record-holding female motorcyclist to speak at Lincoln Highway event
- Westmoreland County Animal Response Team seeks money for new space
- Excela Health has plan in works for orthopedic medical mall in Hempfield
- Westmoreland County Fair doubles as meet-and-greet for candidates
- Survey finds no clear fix to achieving racial diversity in Westmoreland County
- Prison becomes detox center for growing number of inmates with addictions
- Hempfield prison film canceled because of Pa. budget impasse
- Megan’s List offender charged with assault on 10-year-old Latrobe girl