Rundown of the Dems’ Judicial Races
The Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee is meeting this weekend to decide who they will endorse in the upcoming judicial elections in November for the Pennsylvania Superior Court and Commonwealth Court. Both courts are appellate courts that hear appeals from decisions made by the Courts of Common Pleas. The Commonwealth Court typically hears cases involving government regulation or legal questions from state agency decisions, while the Superior Court hears all other cases. The primary is May 17th.
There is one open seat for each position, and the politics have already begun. Generally speaking, keep an eye on the ratings from the PA Bar Association. They can make or break a candidacy.
A quick review of endorsement rules. The committee begins its official voting session Saturday at noon. In either race, two-thirds vote is required for there to be an endorsement at all. If the party decides to endorse (no sure bet), a candidate must win the votes a two-thirds of committee members. Especially in the case of the four-person Commonwealth Court fight, the vote may require multiple ballots with the lowest vote-getter being dropped from the ballot each time.
Superior Court: 1 Open Seat
This is the one to watch folks.
Robert Colville and David Wecht, both of Allegheny County, are each seeking the Democratic endorsement from the Pennsylvania Democrat State Committee this weekend for the open State Superior Court seat. Both of them received the PA Bar Association’s best rating, “highly recommended.”
The two have served together on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas since 2002 when Wecht joined Colville, who had been there for two years prior. The Courts of Common Pleas are the general jurisdiction courts for Pennsylvania where there is one court per county with some exceptions. Both have served in the civil and family divisions of the court.
Colville is known for his time as the toxic substance case supervising judge, in which he managed and expedited a 4,000 case backlog. He also was president of the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges according to the Pennsylvania Bar Association. On top of all of that, Colville was nominated for the seat in 2009, and came within 0.1% of the vote from winning a seat.
Wecht is also well regarded and currently sits in the Civil Division of the Court of Common Pleas, but he was previously the administrative judge of the Family Division. He implemented the “One Family, One Judge” program during his time there, which tries to provide legal consistency in similar situations in the County according to the Bar Association. His ties to the party run deep. He formerly served as vice-chair of the party, and his father, Cyril, is a legendary figure in PA Democratic politics.
Early buzz on this race is that the committee is pretty well split on this race, meaning that there may not be an endorsement. It will depend in large part on the deals that are cut tomorrow and Saturday.
Commonwealth Court: 1 Open Seat
Kathryn Boockvar of Bucks County has the middle rating from the Pennsylvania Bar Association into the state committee meeting, “recommended.” That’s good news for Boockvar, as she is the only prospective Democratic candidate for the seat who has been rated. Committee members weigh those ratings heavily, and may incline toward a sure thing rather than risk nominating a candidate who hasn’t been rated yet. Boockvar has experience in private legal practice and as a public interest lawyer, specifically in cases regarding election law. She has never been a judge, but has experience trying cases before the Commonwealth Court. Early buzz is that if there is an endorsement in this race, Boockvar will get it. She has the support of Philadelphia Chairman Bob Brady, giving her a leg up on the competition.
Dan Bricmont, of Allegheny County, received the Democratic endorsement for Commonwealth Court in 2009 but lost to Barbara Ernsberger. Bricmont was mayor of Avalon Boro from 1993-2005 and was a Republican before switching his registration before the 2008 Democratic primary in order to vote for Barack Obama. He has no judicial experience, but has extensive experience in cases regarding workers compensation, in which he frequently appears before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. He is an attorney for Caroselli Beachler McTiernan & Conboy. Early buzz on Bricmont is that he carries goodwill with most committee members, having lost in 2009 despite the party endorsement, and having served the past several years dutifully as a committeeman himself.
Barbara Ernsberger is a the party activist in this race. A Pittsburgh lawyer who has been on state committee for years, she formerly served as chair of the Pittsburgh City Democrats. However, many committee members were put off by her decision to run against the party’s endorsement in ‘09, and many more were disappointed in her last place finish in the general election. Additionally, she was rated as “not recommended” by the PA Bar in 2009.
Todd Eagen is an attorney who has represented unions in collective bargaining negotiations, grievance arbitration, and interest arbitration since 1998. Based in Lackawanna County and a member of the well-connected Eagen family, he worked for well-connected attorney Robert Mariani, who was recently nominated to U.S. District Court. Eagen is the dark-horse candidate in this race, with less background lobbying state committee votes than ther other candidates.
Tom Mulkeen contributed to this report.