Judicial Hopefuls Make Last Minute Pitch Before Dems Endorsement


Dem Womens Caucus Forum
Superior Court debate. Source: @JudgeMoulton

Harrisburg — It was make or break time for the candidates for Commonwealth and Superior Courts.

The eleven hopefuls for statewide judicial elections this year went before the Democratic state committee members to show why they should be endorsed the statewide judicial offices this year.

The debated and discussed the law at a forum hosted by the Pennsylvania Federation of Democratic Women.

Commonwealth Court

This forum was the most crowded of the evening, with all 7 candidates participating to fight fighting for two endorsement positions: Rep. Bryan Barbin, Timothy Barry, Judge Ellen Ceisler, Irene Clark, Judge Joe Cosgrove, James C. Crumlish III and Todd Eagen.

There are two openings on the nine-member court, which hears challenges to state legislation and executive actions. It’s the first step for most legal action that intersects with state politics, and currently has 7 Republican judges and 2 Democrats.

The performance put on by the candidates in the forum probably did not move any votes. All seven candidates proved capable in the generally genial format. They faced questions including school funding, police power, women’s rights, and Marcellus shale and environmental issues.

On school funding, the candidates all agreed that education needs to be funded fairly and in accordance with the constitutional requirements.

“There is a Constitutional requirement for a free and public education,” Barbin said.

The candidates agreed also that the Court does not make the laws, but interprets the laws and the Constitution.

“The Court’s job is to interpret the laws, not make them,” Eagan said.

The candidates addressed what the Court should do when it faces issues of police power. Most of the candidates agreed that it was a balancing act that had to be performed.

“We know the balance we have to abide by, know the Commonwealth Court is in a unique position to protect Constitutional rights of all citizens,” said Cosgrove. He was appointed to the Court by Gov. Tom Wolf in July and is running for a full term.

“There are a lot of good police officers out there, and they have a difficult job. We cannot make their job harder, but we have to balance that with individual rights,” Barry said.

The candidates diverged a little from each other when the topic of when’s right’s came up, While they all agreed that it was important for the Court to protect women’s right, they differed when it came to the how to best accomplish equality.

“It is very important to have a woman’s perspective on the Commonwealth Court,” Clark said.

Crumlish pointed to the Pa. and U.S. constitutions as the main driver for the protections of women’s rights.

“Both of our Constitutions provide all the protection we need.”

When addressing the tension between shale and natural gas development and environmental concerns, all of the candidates agreed that it was a balancing act between the two sides.

“The Commonwealth Court is ground zero of all of these issues, and I believe the Commonwealth Court can do a better job at examining the issues surrounding these issues,” Ceisler said in her response.

The race for the Commonwealth Court endorsements will come to a head tomorrow when the State Party members will vote to endorse two of the seven candidates, or decide to leave the primary open.

Superior Court

The Superior Court forum was another one to help soothe nervous party members before the endorsements.

The forum featured five of the candidates running for the 4 open seats on the Court: Judge Carolyn Nichols, Bill Caye, Judge Deborah A. Kunselman, Judge Maria McLaughlin and Judge H. Geoffrey Moulton Jr.

The Superior Court has the least political consequence of the three state appellate courts, primarily hearing appeals from county courts of common pleas. Currently GOP judges outnumber Democrats 8-to-6.

The forum focused on issues ranging from the First Amendment protections, immigration, family law, and LGBT rights.

All of the candidates agreed that the Court needed to protect the First Amendment, especially the freedom of the press.

We need to “make sure the media is not intimidated,” Moulton said.

“Freedom of the press is one of the most fundamental freedom in the U.S.,” Nichols echoed.

The candidates all agreed that when issues that relate to immigration would come before the Court they would need to treat those cases with compassion.

On social issues and LGBT rights, the candidates all said that the Court needed to protect the rights women and the LGBT community.

“I have dealt with many LGBTQ issues. I would look at these cases the same as any other cases, those litigants deserve what everybody else does before the court, to be treated fairly,” Kunselman said.

“We need to be sensitive and mindful, as a judge we have to go over and above,” McLaughlin said.

Caye summed up the entire panel: “I think it is very important when you are electing judges you elect judges who share your same values.”

Supreme Court: Dwayne Woodruff

Judge Dwayne Woodruff noticed the big difference between the last time he ran for the Supreme Court veruses this year.

“Last time we had the whole football team up here, now we just have the quarterback,” he joked at the start.

The major question he faced was on redistricting and how we viewed the redrawing of district lines.

“We have gotten to the point where instead of the people electing their representatives, the representatives are electing their districts,” he said.

Disclosure: Judge Ellen Ceisler was formerly married to Larry Ceisler, one of the owners of PoliticsPA.

13 Responses

  1. William F. Caye II
    Rating: Not Recommended

    After reviewing the candidate’s record and based in part on his interview, the [Pennsylvania Bar Association Judicial Evaluation Commission] has concerns about the candidate’s presentation skills, his temperament, his inability to accurately recall events and his overall writing skills. Some attorneys who know him questioned his work ethic and judgment.

    During the interview, the candidate was evasive when responding to direct and pertinent questions. At times when pressed for answers, he raised his voice inappropriately. When questioned about past instances of his reported courtroom behavior, the candidate blamed the court and other counsel, failing to take any responsibility for his actions. This and other responses displayed a lack of professional maturity and raised questions about his temperament and collegiality.

    The candidate also demonstrated an inadequate awareness about the Superior Court’s operations. For example, when asked about how he might change the court, he suggested that it should become less formal and more accommodating for postponements, less strict about time limits during oral argument and more accommodating to the litigants. When asked to reconcile how his suggestions would impact the court’s already heavy caseload, the candidate was unable to provide an intelligible answer.

    With regard to his writing skills, the candidate’s responses to the [commission’s] questionnaire provided no indication that he has any cognizance of a formal writing style. The candidate’s other writing samples were also problematic, demonstrating a lack of ability to convey thoughts in a concise and clear manner.

  2. we need a straight answer from Caye as to why he left the AG’s and what if any involvement he had in porn gate. caye ran for common pleas court . why is he now switching to an appellate court / strange. i’ll not be voting for him based on his PBA rating which is exceptionally low .

  3. @chuckie im starting to think billy caye may have beat you up in high school or stole your girlfriend.

  4. All of these candidates would NOT make good members of a higher court. If the state committee members don’t make Billy Caye come clean on porn gate in the A.G. Office and if little Billy gets first ballot position, then watch the Republicans tear him up in November and then you can blame yourselves as his dishonesty causes a cancer across the whole blue line.

  5. I thought the forum was very interesting. But what does it really Show? The men tend to be the better talkers, the women are the listeners and more cerebral. These positions are not ones where personality should necessarily be an integral criteria. Fact is with maybe one or two exceptions, all of these candidates would make good members of these higher courts. It is up to state committee to help decide which ones can win in November. The GOP is ion a roll in Pennsylvania and the election of democratic judges as well as wins in county and municipal elections this year is crucial to stop the bleeding.

  6. Caye summed up his position to the panel…I need a job and I can’t get elected to anything!

  7. The forum was well done by the Federation of Democratic Women. I just don’t know what value us members are going to have if we just vote the slate up or down. This committee has been going downhill very fast. Poor leadership and a lack of vision. Changes have to be made before it becomes anymore of a plutocracy.

Comments are closed.

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