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'Special qualities' needed for Alle-Kiski races

| Sunday, March 29, 2009

Money and what it takes to qualify are what make running for district judge so attractive and explains why the race for Michael Gerheim's office is hotly contested, an Armstrong County attorney said.

"Obviously, it's a well-paying job," lawyer and Leechburg Mayor Chuck Pascal said. "And it's the only job in the judicial system that non-attorneys can do."

There are three other Alle-Kiski Valley district judgeships up for election. All are in Allegheny County.

Eight people are running to fill the job Leechburg that Gerheim has held. Most aren't attorneys.

"I can't speak to anyone else's point of view, but the job carries a state pension and it pays well," said Robin Davis, an Apollo Democrat who's cross-filed for the position.

According to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, the current annual salary for district judge is $80,927.

Davis, a former Apollo police chief, said the state classifies the local magistrate's position as a part-time job. She argued, however, that the job requires a full-time commitment.

"Anyone seeking that position has to go in there with the mind set that it's a full-time job," she said.

As for what might qualify her to be district judge, given that she isn't a lawyer, Davis cited her experience as a police officer and the work she does for the Armstrong County District Attorney's office.

She added that her experience as a wife, mother and grandmother has forced her into "playing the role of mediator, doctor and psychologist," which she said qualifies her to serve the southern end of Armstrong County.

Gerheim's office serves Apollo, North Apollo, Bethel, Gilpin, Kiski Township, Leechburg and Parks.

In addition to Davis, Jim Andring and Roy Morrison of the Apollo area are running along with Anthony Carino Jr., Daniel Clark, Robert Cinpinski, David Hogue and Anthony Shea Jr. of the Leechburg area.

Each is cross-filed except for Shea, who is only on the Democratic ballot.

Allegheny County races

Three district judges in the northern end of Allegheny County are facing re-election: Suzanne Blaschak, Leonard HRomyak and Elissa Lang.

• Blaschak, who is endorsed by the county's Democratic Party committee, faces a challenge from Constable Herman Bertolini, of East Deer, in the May 19 primary. Both candidates are cross-filed.

Blaschak's office serves East Deer, Frazer and West Deer.

• HRomyak, whose office serves Penn Hills and Verona, said he was successful in getting his challenger, Robert L. Plata, removed from the ballot by challenging his petitions. HRomyak, a Democrat, is now unopposed.

• Lang is being challenged by Constable David Allison. Both are from Indiana Township.

Neither has a legal background.

Lang's office serves Indiana Township, Fox Chapel, O'Hara, Aspinwall, Blawnox and Sharpsburg.

Lang, a Republican, worked as a secretary in district court for 15 years prior to taking classes and earning a certification that made her eligible for appointment to the position in 2002. She then was elected in 2003.

A change Lang brought to her court was deciding to hold hearings for high school truancy cases in the principal's office at Fox Chapel Area High School.

Lang, who serves with several volunteer groups, stresses community involvement.

Allison, a Democrat who's been a constable for more than 20 years, said his chief aim is to make a difference in the community.

"Being a constable for so long, it's almost a natural progression to district judge," he said.

While he couldn't cite specific numbers, Allison argued that many summary offenses that pass through Lang's office aren't being properly addressed.

"Summary offenses are not being dealt with unless they're dealt with voluntarily by the public," he said.

He questioned the hours Lang keeps, saying, "I feel the judge and the office need to be there for the people."

Lang countered that her office is open five days per week.

As for summary offenses, she said her office is audited each year.

"If that was a problem," she said, "someone would've brought it to my attention."

Mark Bursic, chairman of the Indiana Township Republican Committee, said his committee hasn't endorsed anyone for district judge. The committee will listen to candidates talk on April 7 and then decide who to endorse, he said.

Bursic said that while the position of district judge is by nature nonpartisan, his committee does take the race seriously.

"There's a special type of person you look for in those races," he said. "Even though those positions are nonpartisan, we get involved because the principles and character of that person matter."

Bursic added that Allison asked whether he could speak before the Republican committee and the committee agreed to it.

Allegheny County Councilman Jim Burn, chairman of the county's Democratic Committee, couldn't be reached by phone for comment.

No races in Butler, Westmoreland

There are no district judges in the Butler County or Westmoreland County sections of the Alle-Kiski Valley facing re-election.

Additional Information:

Hot races

According to county candidate lists, several Alle-Kiski Valley towns have heated elections shaping up for the May 19 primary. Here's a look at some of those.

Allegheny County

Harmar -- Six candidates are running for two supervisor seats.

Tarentum -- Five candidates are running for four council seats.

Armstrong County

Leechburg -- Five candidates are running for two council seats.

Butler County

South Butler County School District -- Eight candidates are running for five board seats.

Westmoreland County

Burrell School District -- Five candidates are running for four board seats.

Leechburg Area School District -- Five candidates are running for four board seats.

Avonmore -- Three candidates are running for mayor.

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