Six lawyers vying to fill two Westmoreland County judicial seats
Westmoreland County’s Common Pleas Court hasn’t seen a full roster of judges in more than a year.
That is expected to change starting in January 2020, after two judges are elected this fall to replace Richard E. McCormick Jr. and Anthony Marsili, who retired.
Six lawyers — three Democrats and three Republicans — are seeking nominations in Tuesday’s primary to run for full 10-year terms in November. Common Pleas judges in Westmoreland County earn $183,184 a year.
The candidates, all with varying levels of experience, are:
• Kyle Baxter, 51, of North Huntingdon works in private practice handling family court and criminal cases.
• Wayne McGrew, 51, of Sewickley has served as the county’s chief public defender since 2012.
• Jessica Rafferty, 38, of Unity, a lawyer with Quatrini Rafferty; primarily focuses on family law and civil litigation.
• Matt Schimizzi, 36, of Unity, a partner with his father at Greensburg-based Schimizzi Law, a general legal practice.
• Michael Stewart II, 37, of Hempfield, a partner with the Greensburg law firm of Stewart, McArdle, Sorice, Whalen, Farrell, Finoli & Cavanaugh; specializes in family law including divorce, custody and support litigation cases, as well as real estate and tax matters.
• Justin Walsh, 47, of Rostraver works as a part-time lawyer and serves in the state House of Representatives.
Stewart, Rafferty and Schimizzi are registered Democrats. McGrew, Baxter and Walsh are Republicans. All six candidates have cross-filed and will run in both party primaries.
Where they will serve is still to be determined. Vacancies exist in the family court and civil divisions, but judicial assignments are expected to change next year, said Amy DeMatt, the county’s court administrator.
“The existing judges will decide where they want to go based on seniority,” DeMatt said.
In recent years, most newly elected judges have been assigned to family court, where they hear divorces, child custody cases, protection from abuse applications and juvenile delinquencies. When fully staffed, four judges each sit in family court and criminal court. The civil court division has typically been staffed with three judges.
McGrew is a former FBI special agent and Westmoreland County prosecutor. If elected, he said, he will rely on his courtroom experience.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Stewart said he anticipates a family court assignment if elected.
“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,” Stewart said.
Rafferty touted her background before she attended law school as giving her the foundation to serve as a judge.
”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 and while serving in the United States Peace Corps,” Rafferty said.
Schimizzi previously served as an assistant public defender and now handles a general caseload that includes criminal, family, civil and real estate issues. He said his temperament makes him suited to serve as a judge.
“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,” Schimizzi said.
Baxter worked as an assistant district attorney before forming her own law practice, where she handles cases in family court. She said that she will rely on that experience as a judge.
“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,” Baxter said.
Walsh in 2018 was elected to his second two-year term as a state representative, but he said he works as a lawyer handling a variety of cases.
“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,” Walsh said.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .