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Philadelphia's Dougherty brothers spotlight differences as one vies for Supreme Court

| Friday, May 1, 2015, 11:24 p.m.

Pittsburghers may not know Philadelphia's “Johnny Doc,” but his brother, state Supreme Court candidate Kevin Dougherty, wants voters to know they are very different people.

John J. Dougherty Jr., business manager of Philadelphia's powerful electricians union — Local 98 — is a charismatic yet tough, and even feared, power broker.

Kevin Dougherty, on the other hand, has built a reputation of trying to help juveniles and families as a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge in the court's family division.

“What separates me is that I come from a completely different world than he,” Dougherty told the Tribune-Review on Friday. “He's in the world of labor. I'm in the world of law.”

Dougherty said he would recuse himself if their worlds ever collide in the courtroom.

A South Philadelphia native, Dougherty is one of six Democrats seeking the nomination in the May primary. He raised $708,000 through March, the most of any candidate in the contest for three seats on the state's highest court. His largest single contributor — giving at least $302,000 — is his brother's union.

He is “recommended” by the state and Philadelphia bar associations.

Since Gov. Tom Ridge appointed Dougherty to the bench in 2001, he has prided himself on helping children and families, requesting to serve in the family division, working his way up to supervising judge then being appointed administrative judge of the juvenile branch.

Dougherty received 78 percent of the votes when he ran for retention in 2011, receiving support from Republicans and Democrats. The state Supreme Court tapped him to be the administrative judge of the trial division in October.

He said he helped reform the family division by addressing such issues as access to the court, fair representation and “changing of the culture” that had consisted of older judges on their way out.

“I have taken a dysfunctional system and had a track record of accomplishment,” he said.

Transparency and the election of three new justices would bolster the integrity of the Supreme Court, he said.

Last year's pornographic email scandal that sent Justice Seamus McCaffery into retirement and the 2013 conviction of Justice Joan Orie Melvin on charges of using her office for political gain have tarnished its image.

The new blood, Dougherty said, would “bring closure to the wounds of (the court's) reputation.”

As a justice, he said he hopes to follow in the footsteps of Max Baer, a former Allegheny County family division judge who has held a seat on the state Supreme Court since 2003.

“I want to make sure there's someone there upon his retirement that can succeed him and maintain the goal of continuing good things for good families,” Dougherty said.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or

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