2011-11-03 / Local & State

Pa.Voters To Fill 2 Appellate Court Seats Nov. 8

By PETER JACKSON
ASSOCIATED PRESS

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Pennsylvania voters will settle contests for a pair of open seats on the state appellate bench and fill thousands of local posts that include district judgeships, county and municipal offices and school-board seats in the Nov. 8 election.

Harrisburg lawyer Vic Stabile, a Republican, and Allegheny County Judge David Wecht, a Democrat, are competing for a seat on the state Superior Court, which handles most criminal and civil appeals.

Two lawyers from Bucks County – Democrat Kathryn Boockvar and Republican Anne Covey – are vying to fill an opening on the state Commonwealth Court, which specializes in such matters as lawsuits against the state, appeals of decisions by state agencies and election litigation.

All four candidates boast positive ratings from a Pennsylvania Bar Association panel and were nominated by their parties in the May primary. In their campaigns, they have touted their professional qualifications, but struggled to raise money to afford TV advertising in the relatively lowprofile contests.

Wecht, who is already airing campaign TV ads in some media markets, led the field in fundraising as of Friday, the deadline for campaign finance reports covering the five weeks ending Oct. 24. His total contributions climbed to $512,000, leaving a $322,000 balance.

Stabile has raised $198,000 so far and had about $120,000 on hand, according to his report.

Boockvar has raised $352,000 and had $130,000 on hand, while Covey had received nearly $343,000 and a balance of $234,000, according to summaries provided by their campaigns.

Stabile and Boockvar both said they plan to launch TV ads next week.

Wecht received $300,000 from the a trial lawyers’ group the Committee for a Better Tomorrow, donations that accounted for nearly all of the near-quadrupling of his campaign war chest since late September.

The same group gave $25,000 to Stabile’s campaign, its largest contribution of the reporting period.

A report released this week by three national legal-reform groups cited the growing cost of judicial election campaigns in Pennsylvania and other states that elect judges as a threat to impartial justice and public confidence in the court system.

The report said the $5 millionplus cost of the Pennsylvania’s 2009 Supreme Court campaign was the second-most-costly judicial race in the 2009-10 cycle. It said more than half of the money came from trial lawyers and the state Republican Party.

Wecht, the only candidate who received the bar panel’s top “highly recommended” rating, said he is grateful for the triallawyer group’s generosity and that his campaign’s acceptance of the money does not pose an ethical conflict for him.

“My track record speaks for itself,” he said, adding that fellow lawyers understand that “`I’m beyond reproach and I can’t be bought by anybody.”

Wecht, 49, the oldest son of nationally known forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht, says experience as a county judge since 2003 and as a lawyer in private practice have prepared him thoroughly for the broad array of legal issues that come before the Superior Court. He previously was twice elected as the county’s register of wills.

Stabile, 54, who has managed the Harrisburg office of the Dilworth Paxson law firm since 1992, points to nearly three decades of legal experience as well as recent service as an elected township supervisor in Cumberland County and pro-bono work for clients who need a lawyer but cannot afford to hire one.

Covey, 51, of New Hope, was the first woman appointed to the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, a position she held from 2002 until she stepped down in April to concentrate on her campaign. She also owns a private firm that specializes in labor law and typically represents management clients.

Boockvar, 43, of Doylestown, served for two years as the Pennsylvania attorney for the Advancement Project, specializing in voting rights cases, and spent a decade in private practice gaining experience in civil rights, open records, disabilities and other areas of law.

The winners of the judicial races will serve 10-year terms. The present salary for judges on both courts is $178,914.

In many parts of the state, voter interest in local contests may eclipse the statewide races at the top of the ticket.

In Philadelphia, Democratic Mayor Michael Nutter is favored to win a second term, despite challenges from Republican Karen Brown, a former math teacher, and Wali Rahman, an activist who is running as an independent.

Allegheny County voters will choose between Democrat Rich Fitzgerald, a former county councilman, and Republican D. Raja, a software entrepreneur, to fill the county executive’s seat that Dan Onorato is vacating after two four-years terms. Onorato was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2010.

In the fiscally troubled state capital, Harrisburg voters will fill three seats on the City Council amid the nationally watched debate over the city’s finances.

Two members of the council majority that filed a petition for bankruptcy protection – defying Mayor Linda Thompson – are seeking re-election and face Republican challengers. Incumbents Brad Koplinski and Susan Brown-Wilson are Democrats, however, in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 5-1.

And in Pittsburgh, voters will decide a referendum on a proposed special property tax to raise money for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh to offset reductions in state funding. The 0.25-mill tax would amount to $25 a year for every $100,000 in assessed value.

In addition to the contested judgeships, six members of the statewide appellate courts are standing for retention votes. They are unopposed but will be listed on the ballot for yes-or-no votes on whether they should serve additional 10-year terms.

Those are Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin, Superior Court judges John T. Bender and Mary Jane Bowes, and Commonwealth Court judges Renee Cohn Jubelirer, Mary Hannah Leavitt and Robert E. Simpson Jr.

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