Q&A with judicial candidates for Westmoreland Common Pleas Court
Six lawyers are seeking two vacancies this year on the Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas.
Democrats Michael Stewart, Jessica Rafferty and Matt Schimizzi, along with Republicans Wayne McGrew, Kyle Baxter and Justin Walsh are each running in both party primaries on May 21. The top two vote-getters in each party primary will run in the November general election.
Candidates were asked about why they should be a judge and to explain their judicial philosophy. Here are their answers:
“It is my philosophy that the role of a Common Pleas judge is to use your years of both life and legal experience to weigh the credibility of those before me and apply the law as it is written to the facts that are properly placed onto the record in making fair, well-reasoned decisions. A judge is to render decisions based on the facts and law before them; not to make the law.
“I am qualified to listen to those who come before me and to seek the truth. I was raised to be honest and work to the best of my abilities in all that I do. In my legal career as both a prosecutor and family law attorney I have been taught to listen and question in order to seek the truth. I am a very hard-working person, it is in my nature to be prepared. As a judge, I will be prepared for court each and every day and will expect the same from lawyers that appear before me. I am beholden to no one. That independence will allow me to seek that truth and apply the law; to do the right thing every day.”
“I subscribe to Clarence Thomas’ philosophy on the role of a judge. He has been quoted saying that it is the judge’s role to interpret the law, not to create the law. I believe that everyone has a right to be heard and have the laws applied equally. I have practiced inside of a courtroom for the majority of my 25-year career, prosecuting those charged with crimes and later defending those accused of committing crimes. I have worked for civil plaintiffs and civil defendants. I have also worked for and protected the rights and interests of our children involved in the judicial system. Court appearances can be some of the most stressful times in a person’s life. If elected, my courtroom would be a place where those who appear before me could be assured that I would render unbiased decisions based on the law, and treat them with dignity and respect. My experience and years of practice in many different facets of law makes me uniquely qualified to sit as a judge on the Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas, and I would be honored to do so.”
“I have had a desire to serve and make a positive difference for people ever since I can remember. Prior to law school, I obtained ‘real life’ experience working with children and families at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Danville Center for Adolescent Females (a maximum security juvenile detention center) and while serving in the United States Peace Corps. Along with my desire to serve, my life has demonstrated that I am willing to work hard in doing so. Finally, I have the personality for this job. I am patient, intelligent and reasonable. I have always wanted to hear both sides of a story before deciding the truth of a matter.
“Philosophically, I believe a judge should not make laws. A judge should apply the laws as they exist in a fair and just manner. A judge’s personal beliefs should not factor into her application of the law. In my courtroom everyone will be given an equal opportunity to be heard and be treated with dignity and respect. This is my judicial philosophy and this is how my courtroom would be run if I am elected.”
“First and foremost, it is critical that judges make decisions based upon the law and the facts and without regard to any personal or political beliefs. Our nation was built on the principle of three separate but equal branches of government. Legislation should be left up to our federal and state legislatures. That is why I also believe that legislating from the bench has no role in our judiciary. If judges begin legislating from the bench, the judiciary would become more powerful than the other two branches and would violate one of the most fundamental principles of our Founding Fathers.
“People want judges who have judicial temperament. To me, that term encompasses several different traits. I believe that judges should be fair and impartial, open-minded, courteous, exhibit patience but also know when to be firm. But in my opinion, the quality that makes for a great judge is empathy. A judge should view a case from the standpoint of all parties so that he or she can fully understand the issues at hand which will allow that judge to make just decisions. These are all qualities that I have that will make me a good judge.”
“A judge’s role is to interpret and apply the law to the facts of the case, not make law. In some cases, a judge may disagree with a particular law or court precedent, but they are bound by their oath to follow it. I am running for judge on the Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas because I have the experience to be a fair and effective judge. The next judge will most likely serve in family court, and I have extensive experience as an attorney representing clients in adoptions, divorces, child custody cases, and many other areas before the court. I come from a large family, and I will bring my family values to the bench with me. As a judge in family court, I will put the interests of children and maintaining strong families first while upholding the law. I also believe that I have the temperament to serve the people of Westmoreland County effectively. Family court cases can be emotionally charged, and it is the judge’s role to maintain order and to make all decisions based on the law – not emotion. As Westmoreland County’s next judge, I have the experience to serve the people fairly and honorably.”
“As judge, I will bring more than 22 years of broad-based legal experience as a trusted attorney and a conservative state legislator to the bench to ensure fair justice for our families. During my two decades in private law, I have gained extensive experience working in and out of the courtroom in the criminal, civil and family law areas our next judge will hear. During this time, I have earned a reputation for maintaining the highest legal and ethical standards. The residents of Westmoreland County can trust I will be a tough, fair and impartial judge who will interpret and apply the law, but never legislate from the bench. In addition to my legal experience, it has been an honor to serve as state representative where I have been a leading advocate for laws that preserve public safety. I have led efforts to root out corruption in government, increase penalties for drug crimes and impose tougher penalties for those who victimize the elderly and children. As a trusted conservative, I’m honored to be supported by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 87, LIFEPAC and FOAC.”
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .