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Allegheny judicial candidates seek courtroom promotion

| Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

At least two lawyers who have never donned a black robe, held a gavel or presided over a trial will be elected to the Allegheny County Common Pleas bench on Nov. 5.

But the six candidates battling for four seats — 10-year terms they will begin serving in January — tout their legal experience as reasons to vote for them.

Judge Bill Ward, 61, of Mt. Lebanon, who has served on the bench since Gov. Tom Corbett named him to fill a vacancy last year, said his 36 years of experience set him up for success in a full term.

“I'm certainly more experienced and comfortable with the job, and I believe I can respond even more effectively now that I know the people involved in the system,” said Ward, who served as Corbett's chief of staff, chaired the state Board of Probation and Parole and worked as a deputy attorney general and assistant U.S. attorney. “I've certainly become more efficient and responsive.”

Mark Tranquilli, 46, of Upper St. Clair, who in March took an unpaid leave of absence from the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office, said his experience trying cases for the last 20 years gives him an advantage.

“This is a trial judge position. In order to be a competent trial judge, you have to be an experienced trial lawyer,” said Tranquilli, who led the district attorney's homicide unit since 2005. “Far and above, that's the edge I have on the other candidates.”

Judge Paul E. Cozza, 53, of Baldwin Township had a private practice for 19 years, served on the county Board of Viewers and was appointed to the bench at the same time as Ward. He did not return several calls requesting comment.

In May, he told the Tribune-Review that making a difference in kids' lives is rewarding.

Jennifer Satler, 38, of the North Side said her seven years in the county public defender's office and six years as a private attorney and instructor at the University of Pittsburgh make her well-qualified for the bench.

“I'm the only candidate who can serve three full terms and then some. I think I would be a smart investment in our future as the voters won't have to replace my seat anytime soon,” Satler said. Judges are required to retire at 70.

P.J. Murray, 52, of Upper St. Clair, a partner at a Downtown firm who focuses on civil litigation and business law, said he wants to be a judge because he believes it's the “single judicial position that affects everyday lives the most directly” and because he wants to give back to the community. Murray has clerked for a federal judge, has 25 years' trial experience and has been named as a top lawyer by a national law magazine.

“The profession has been very good to me over the last 25 years, and I feel it's very important (that) those who can give back should,” he said.

Eleanor Bush, 53, of Squirrel Hill, who oversees training for the Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network, said her 25 years of working with children and families makes her “uniquely qualified.”

Judges typically begin their judicial careers in Family Division.

“It would just be a wonderful privilege to serve the children and families in the role of judge,” Bush said.

In addition to the six candidates vying for four seats, Judges Ronald W. Folino, Kathleen R. Mulligan, Lawrence J. O'Toole, Jill Rangos, Christine A. Ward and John A. Zottola are seeking retention.

Once elected, Common Pleas judges face a yes-or-no retention vote every 10 years. Their salary this year is $173,271.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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