Pennsylvania’s Unified Judicial System is one of North America’s oldest, growing from a collection of part-time, local courts prior to 1700 to today’s statewide, automated court system.
The judiciary’s entry-level courts are located in more than 500 magisterial districts and in municipal courts in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The next level, the state’s trial courts or Courts of Common Pleas, are in judicial districts which mostly follow county boundaries. The statewide intermediate appellate courts — Superior and Commonwealth — hear criminal and civil appeals from the trial courts and some original cases brought against the state and its agencies.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is the highest arbiter of cases in the judicial system, and has administrative authority over the entire court system. The Pennsylvania court system is structured like a pyramid with the Supreme Court at the top.
Here are the candidates who have filed to run for the openings on the Supreme, Superior and Commonwealth Courts.
Supreme Court. The seven-seat high court currently has a majority of four justices elected as Democrats. Two other justices were elected as Republicans and one seat is open following the death last fall of Max Baer, who was chief justice. Baer died only months before he was to reach the mandatory retirement age of 75.
Carolyn T. Carluccio (R-Montgomery). Carluccio was elected to the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court in November 2009, where she has served with distinction as the Court’s first female President Judge in the County’s history. As a common pleas judge, Carluccio was assigned to sit in the Criminal, Family and Civil Court Benches, and as an alternate Judge to Juvenile Court. The state Republican Party has endorsed Carluccio. Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
Deborah Anne Kunselman (D-Beaver). Kunselman, 55, graduated from Notre Dame’s law school and worked as a civil litigator for 13 years, including eight as the chief solicitor for Beaver County, before becoming the first woman elected as a Beaver County judge in 2005. A Democrat, she currently serves on the state Superior Court and was endorsed in the primary by the Democratic Party when she ran for that seat in 2017.
Daniel D. McCaffrey (D-Philadelphia). In 1991, McCaffery became an Assistant District Attorney in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. Six years later, he joined Jaffe, Friedman, Schuman, Nemeroff and Applebaum PC in Montgomery County and was named partner in 2000. McCaffery chaired the firm’s commercial litigation department and spent 16 years as a civil trial attorney. In 2013 McCaffery was the top vote-getter in the election for Judge of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. In 2019 he again was the top vote-getter, this time in the statewide election for Judge of the Pennsylvania Superior Court. The state Democratic Party has endorsed McCaffrey. Website | Facebook | Instagram
Patricia A. McCullough (R-Allegheny). McCullough was is private practice from 1991-2004 before being appointed a judge of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas in 2005. She returned to the bench in 2009 as a judge of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.
Superior Court. The Superior Court is one of Pennsylvania’s two statewide intermediate appellate courts. The Superior Court, comprised of 15 judges, is often the final arbiter of legal disputes. The Supreme Court may grant a petition to review a decision of the Superior Court, but most petitions are denied and the ruling of the Superior Court stands. Cases are usually heard by panels of three judges sitting in Philadelphia, Harrisburg or Pittsburgh, but may also be heard en banc by nine judges. The Superior Court often travels to locations throughout Pennsylvania to hear cases.
Maria C. Battista (R-Clarion). Battista has more than 15 years of legal experience in civil, criminal, and administrative law and is a former Assistant District Attorney. As a Commonwealth attorney, Battista was counsel in the Departments of Health and State. For three years, Battista was a hearing examiner where she presided over hundreds of cases, including for the Department of Corrections. The state Republican Party has endorsed Battista. Website | Facebook | Instagram
Jill L. Beck (D-Allegheny). After graduating from Duquesne University School of Law, Beck chose to work for the nonprofit organization KidsVoice, where she represented abused and neglected children in court proceedings and beyond. Beginning in 2010, she spent 10 years in public service as a law clerk under the Honorable Christine Donohue on the Superior Court and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. In the fall of 2019 Jill became a civil litigator at Blank Rome, a law firm she selected because of its commitment to providing free legal services to those who cannot afford them. The state Democratic Party has endorsed Beck. Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
Patrick Dugan (D-Philadelphia). In 2019 Dugan was elected President Judge of Philadelphia Municipal Court by his peers. First appointed to the Bench in 2007, Dugan was elected to the court in 2009 and retained in 2015. In his role as President Judge oversees the administrative operations of both the Criminal and Civil Divisions of the Court. Website
Timika Lane (D-Philadelphia). Lane was elected to the Court of the Common Pleas in 2013 after a distinguished career as a teacher and then a lawyer. She was first assigned to the Major Trials program in the Criminal Division. :ane has also served as a teacher, a law clerk in the Court of Common Pleas and then practiced family law. The state Democratic Party has endorsed Lane. Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
Harry F. Smail Jr. (R-Westmoreland). Smail, Jr has been a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Westmoreland County for 8 ½ years. He was appointed by Governor Tom Corbett to serve on the bench in 2014 and unanimously confirmed by the State Senate. In 2015 Judge Smail won both parties’ nominations to a full term on the Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas. During his time on the bench, Judge Smail served initially in Family Court. The state Republican Party has endorsed Smail. Website
Commonwealth Court. The Commonwealth Court is unique to Pennsylvania and is one of two statewide intermediate appellate courts. The Commonwealth Court, comprised of nine judges, is primarily responsible for matters involving state and local governments and regulatory agencies. It also acts as a trial court when lawsuits are filed by or against the Commonwealth. Cases are generally heard by panels of three judges in Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, although, on occasion, they may choose to hold court in other locations. Cases may also be heard by a single judge or by en banc panels of seven judges.
Megan Martin (R-Cumberland). Martin has the unique distinction of serving in all three branches of our state government, and as an attorney for the United States Navy. Megan made history when she became the first woman to serve as the Pennsylvania Senate’s Secretary-Parliamentarian. There, she managed the legislative process with diligence and care for more than a decade, ensuring that the constitution, laws, and rules of the Senate were followed throughout the legislative process. The state Republican Party has endorsed Martin. Website | Facebook | Instagram
Bryan S. Neft (D-Allegheny). He served for nearly 15 years in a leadership role on the Allegheny County Bar Association’s Board of Governors and as its president where he championed issues affecting women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ members of the legal profession. That work led to The Pennsylvania Supreme Court appointing Neft as a member, and later as chair, of its charitable arm, the IOLTA Board, which oversees funding of legal service agencies across the Commonwealth that provide legal services to those who cannot afford them. Website | Facebook | Twitter
Joshua Garet Prince (R-Berks). Prince is the principal of the Civil Rights Defense Firm, P.C. and an associate at Prince Law Offices in Berks County, P.C. Beyond handling all civil rights issues at the state and federal level, Civil Rights Defense Firm has several divisions, including one concentrating on firearms law and second amendment issues, where Josh serves as Chief Counsel. Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
Matthew S. Wolf (D-Philadelphia). Wolf is the Supervising Civil Judge of the Philadelphia Municipal Court. As Supervising Judge, he guided the court through the pandemic, he started the heralded eviction diversion program, and he has focused the court on equity and access to justice. Website
Thanks for going the extra mile and telling us how many seats are open for the two intermediate appellate courts – don’t you think this would be useful info?