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Field wide for judicial race

| Saturday, May 14, 2005

One of the busiest races of the tri-county area is that of Common Please Judge in Washington County, where voters will be asked to nominate two judges from a pool of 10 candidates.

The seats are open because of the death of President Judge David L. Gilmore in September and a new position the state Legislature created in 2004.

Voters have not elected two Washington County judges in one election in more than 25 years.

Unlike some elections, which tend to be two-horse races for one seat, the large field leads to problems, one candidate said.

"The size of the field complicates the election," said Janet Moschetta Bell, whose husband, John, is a Washington County judge. "It makes it harder for voters to sort through, and it's also tougher on the candidates, because we have to try and distinguish ourselves from the rest of the pack."

The 10 hopefuls include two from the Mid-Mon Valley, Mike Lucas and John Petrisek.

Lucas, 37, is an assistant district attorney, a job he's held for the eight years.

Petrisek, 34, of Ellsworth, has practiced law for 10 years.

Lucas said he decided to throw his hat in the ring for two reasons.

"I really like the variety of law," said Lucas, who also is a member of the Charleroi law firm of Bassi, McCune and Vreeland. "That's why I've been working in the D.A.'s office and in private practice."

Lucas said he enjoys public service.

"The only position in public service where you can get that type of variety in law is as judge. I'd like to do that full-time," he said.

Lucas said he didn't know what to expect going into the campaign because he has never before sought elected office.

Of the candidates, Lucas had the second-highest rating in a poll of the Washington County Bar Association. The association bases the poll on legal ability, integrity, diligence and judicial temperament.

Petrisek said sitting on the bench has been a career goal.

"I have lots of experience in just about every aspect of law," he said. "As a solo and general practitioner, I do a ton of work. I work on every conceivable aspect of every case in my office."

Petrisek said the timing is right to run for a judicial slot not only because of the rarity of two open seats, but also because this may be the last Washington County judicial election in some time.

"It is conceivable another seat may not open for another 15 to 20 years, depending on who gets elected," the candidate said.

The following also are running: John DiSalle, Jeff Watson, Louann Petrucci, Charles Kurowski, Colin Fitch, Mark Stopperich and Marcy Lavelle.

DiSalle, of McMurray, is the son of former county and state Judge Richard DiSalle.

Watson, of Washington, is a private practice attorney who has been a Washington County Juvenile Court master for 12 years.

Petrucci, of Canonsburg, has experience as a public defender and is a former solicitor for county Children and Youth Services. She maintains her own law practice.

This is not the first judicial run for Kurowski, of Washington. This is his fourth attempt to win a seat on the bench. He has practiced law for 25 years.

Kurowski said he is confident in comparing the actual amount of cases he has handled and litigated to those of the other candidates.

Fitch, of Washington, is a partner in the law firm Marriner Jones & Fitch. Fitch received the top rating from the Washington County Bar Association poll.

Stopperich, of Canonsburg, is a partner in the Morascyzk Stopperich & Associates. He's been with the firm for 14 years.

Lavelle, of Houston, is a former attorney for United Mine Workers District 5 and now maintains a private practice.

The field of candidates is a relatively young one with Bell, at 58, being the oldest. Petrisek and Lucas are the youngest candidates.

Petrisek said his youth is an advantage because he willing and able to put in long, grueling hours.

Bell said that if elected, she will serve one 10-year term. The other candidates could remain on the bench for a long as 36 years.

Of the candidates, all have cross-filed on the Democratic and Republican tickets except for Lavelle, who is seeking a Republican nomination.

Lavelle said she believes she will fare better if she concentrates on the Republican nod.

"I didn't feel I could win on both sides, so why not win my own party?" Lavelle said. "Just because you can cross file doesn't mean you have to."

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