Pa. Senate unanimously confirms Elliot Howsie as Common Pleas judge |

Pa. Senate unanimously confirms Elliot Howsie as Common Pleas judge

Natasha Lindstrom
Megan Guza | Tribune-Review
Elliot Howsie, Chief Public Defender for Allegheny County, announces his campaign for the county Court of Common Pleas in the Allegheny County Courthouse grand staircase on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019.

Allegheny County Chief Public Defender Elliot Howsie has been named a Common Pleas judge.

On a 47-0 vote, the state Senate on Tuesday confirmed Howsie to fill the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas seat left vacant by Judge Donna Jo McDaniel. McDaniel resigned in January following Superior Court rulings removing her from two separate sex offender cases, with a Nov. 28 opinion accusing McDaniel of having “shown bias and personal animus.”

Howsie, 51, who grew up in Wilkinsburg, has served the past seven years as the county’s top public defender. He secured Gov. Tom Wolf’s nomination to the Common Pleas judgeship in late March.

Howsie had been campaigning as a candidate for Allegheny County Common Pleas Court since January.

Wolf’s nomination prompted Howsie to withdraw his name from the May 21 primary election ballot.

Western Pa. native, ‘highly qualified’ attorney

Howsie became the county’s first black chief public defender when Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald appointed him to the post in 2012. He has touted changes made during his time in the public defender’s office, including providing attorneys at preliminary arraignments and, ultimately, helping to decrease the number of non-violent offenders held in the Allegheny County Jail.

“I understand the importance of us having judges on the bench that will have respect, that can make decisions that will not have just a dramatic generational impact on our families,” Howsie told the Tribune-Review in January. “We need to have judges that have the perspective, the legal experience, the work history and the life experience to serve and better serve the members of our community.”

Fitzgerald said Tuesday in a statement that Gov. Wolf’s support and Tuesday’s unanimous Senate vote reflect Howsie’s “highly qualified” rating by the Allegheny County Bar Association.

“I know that Elliot will bring the same fire, drive and dedication that he showed in the Public Defender’s Office to the bench,” Fitzgerald said. “He also brings his perspective as a Wilkinsburg native, as the son of a janitor … and as a public servant who has worked in every sector of the justice system. He has dedicated his life to service and has consistently sought opportunities to better our community.”

Howsie graduated from Central Catholic High School and earned a master’s degree in criminal justice from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He later earned his law degree from Duquesne University in 1998 while juggling two full-time jobs.

He began his legal career as a law clerk for Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Justin M. Johnson, then spent five years as an assistant district attorney in the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, where he concentrated on prosecuting cases of child abuse.

Howsie left the DA’s office to start a criminal defense law firm and defended clients in state and federal court before joining the Public Defender’s Office.

Howsie also is an adjunct law professor at Duquesne University. He’s served on the Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board and the board of directors for Macdeonia Family and Community Enrichment Center, a faith-based nonprofit focused on improving the lives of children and families in Pittsburgh’s Hill District neighborhood.

State Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, who spoke in support of Howsie before the Judiciary Committee, said that Howsie will make “a wonderful judge and administer fair justice.”

Howsie, who could not immediately be reached, has said that his top goal was to become a judge in either the Family Division or Criminal Division of the Court of Common Pleas.

“That’s where I believe judges have the greatest ability to impact the lives of everyday people that grace the front doors of our Criminal Justice system,” Howsie wrote in a March 7 Twitter post.

RELATED: Common Pleas Judge McDaniel resigns in wake of removal from sex offender cases

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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