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Four candidates pursuing pair of statewide appeals-court posts

| Monday, Oct. 24, 2011

Four candidates are vying for two slots on the state's intermediate appeals courts, races that typically make few waves for a statewide office.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge David Wecht, 49, a Democrat, is running against Republican candidate Vic Stabile, 54, a Cumberland County attorney, for a seat on the Superior Court.

Anne Covey, 51, a Bucks County lawyer, has the Republican nod in the race for a seat on the Commonwealth Court against Democrat Kathryn Boockvar, 43, also a Bucks County lawyer.

Typically, races for the statewide appellate courts take a back seat to others, such as the race for Allegheny County Executive, said University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff.

"These races aren't sexy. People don't think about judges until a judge does something they don't like. If it's not the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, people tend to go to sleep," Burkoff said. "But intermediate appellate courts are important — they correct errors. Criminal and civil trials are not perfect."

The judges serve a 10-year term; their salary for this year is $178,914.

All four candidates touted their experience in their bid to win the Nov. 8 election.

Wecht of Indiana Township is a judge in the civil division of the county Common Pleas Court. He is the son of former county Coroner Cyril Wecht. He graduated from Yale Law School and clerked in the Washington, D.C., circuit federal court of appeals. He previously worked at three law firms, including the Wecht law firm, and was elected in 1997 as the county register of wills.

Wecht was appointed to a vacancy on the bench in 2003 and elected in his own right later that year. Wecht said the Superior Court should make all of its decisions available online to the public. Typically, only opinions that set a precedent are posted.

"The court's work product should be transparent. The practice of deciding over 90 percent of cases largely by unpublished memorandum decisions cries out for reform," Wecht said. "I believe everything should be out there in the sunlight for people to read and ponder."

Wecht is rated "highly recommended" by the state bar association's Judicial Evaluation Commission, a group of lawyers and non-lawyers who investigate, interview and rate statewide judicial candidates.

Stabile of Carlisle is the managing partner of the Harrisburg office of the law firm Dilworth Paxson. He graduated from the Dickinson School of Law and clerked in the Commonwealth Court before taking a job in the state Attorney General's Office. He's been with Dilworth Paxson since 1987.

Stabile said he'd like the court to make sure its rules are clear.

"I would like to see the court be more sensitive to the effect that their decisions have on citizens. It's frustrating to have a decision and have it difficult to comply with," Stabile said. "I have a predisposition to hearing cases on their merits as opposed to dismissing them on rule technicalities. People are entitled to their day in court."

The bar association commission rates Stabile as "recommended."

In the Commonwealth Court race, the commission rates both Boockvar and Covey as "recommended."

Boockvar of Doylestown worked as a lawyer for the Advancement Project, a Washington-based organization, dealing with issues such as voting rights. She graduated from American University Washington College of Law. She started out working as an attorney for an organization that helped poor people with legal services.

She later moved on to work dealing with unemployment compensation and similar services before opening her own practice. She was hired in 2008 by the Advancement Project.

"One of the things I feel strongly about is that if I'm going to dissent, I'm always going to write an opinion. It's frustrating for a lawyer if there's a dissent without an explanation of why," Boockvar said. "I'd also like to see more consistency from panel to panel decisions. The more conflicting case law you have, the more difficult it is to advise your clients."

Covey of Upper Makefield Township works at the law firm she started 15 years ago, Covey & Associates, where she deals with labor and employment law. She graduated from Widener University School of Law and started her career as an attorney for the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. She then went on to clerk for the then-president judge of the Commonwealth Court. She worked at two other firms before starting her own.

In 2002, she was appointed by the governor to the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board and was reappointed in 2005.

"Judges aren't going to meet the litigants, but judges should keep the practical aspect of the law in mind when applying it," Covey said. "My judicial philosophy is that judges are to interpret the law, not make law. Judges should not legislate from the bench. Judges should respect the power of the people to speak with their legislators."

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