Stewart, Walsh win Westmoreland judicial race; Bononi, Scherer get second terms
Westmoreland County voters Tuesday tabbed Democrat Michael Stewart II and Republican state Rep. Justin Walsh to fill two seats on the Common Pleas Court.
Stewart, 37, of Hempfield, a Democrat who won both the Democratic and Republican nominations in the spring, and Walsh, 47, of Rostraver, a two-term state lawmaker from the 58th legislative district, held solid leads in the three-way race as the final ballots trickled in.
With 96% of precincts reporting and nearly 140,000 ballots counted, Stewart had nearly 40% of the votes to Walsh’s 31.5%. Jessica Rafferty, 39, of Unity, who won the Democratic nomination, was in third place with 28.5% of the votes. Absentee ballots had yet to be tabulated.
Stewart and Rafferty came to the race as attorneys in private practice. Walsh has maintained a general law practice part time since his election to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives three years ago.
Stewart is a partner with the Greensburg law firm of Stewart, McArdle, Sorice, Whalen, Farrell, Finoli & Cavanaugh. He touted his background in family law and as a trial lawyer in civil court.
Rafferty, an associate in the Greensburg firm Quatrini Rafferty, said her background working with children and families prepared her to work as a family court judge. She could not be reached Tuesday night.
Stewart said his strategy of targeting both ballots in the spring and emphasizing his experience paid off at the polls.
“My message wasn’t political. That was intentional,” he said as he celebrated with supporters at J. Corks restaurant in Greensburg.
Walsh was outspent four to one by Rafferty and three to one by Stewart. Still, he rode a wave that saw Republicans fare well across the county. Walsh said supporters in his House district came out for him Tuesday and others likely saw him as the candidate with a track record in the law and in life.
“I don’t want to take away from the other candidates, but I think it all boiled down to who is the most qualified? Who has the most life experience, the most legal experience?” Walsh said.
Pre-election campaign finance reports showed Rafferty spent $413,000 through the primary and general election. Stewart’s campaign spent about $300,000 on his primary and general election campaigns, while Walsh spent more than $100,000.
Common Pleas Court judges are elected to 10 year terms. Judges on the court earned $183,000 this year. There are 11 seats on the court bench in Westmoreland County.
Two veteran Common Pleas Court judges — Michele Bononi and Chris Scherer — easily won their bids for second 10-year terms on the bench through a yes-no retention vote. Each received around 75% support from voters.
Bononi, 59, of Unity, has spent her first term as a family court judge and serves as the administrative judge for the juvenile criminal court division.
Scherer, 53, of Lower Burrell, is assigned to the civil court division.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter .