On November 7, registered voters in Pennsylvania can vote for state judicial candidates. In this 2017 election, voters will elect judges for one seat on the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, four seats on the Superior Court of Pennsylvania and two seats on the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. Is this important? You bet it is. These are the men and women who will decide cases that will affect us for years to come. The judges we elect will stay on the bench for at least ten years and decide hundreds of cases on appeal. These appellate courts have the final say in deciding and interpreting Pennsylvania laws and the outcome of cases.
By now you have probably received campaign advertisements in the mail like the one I got today telling me to “Vote for Judges Who Share Our Values and Stand for the Flag.” I am not sure what that means but I am told that the candidates listed are “experienced” and have the “highest ability, ethical standards & integrity.” How do we know who is qualified to make important decisions interpreting laws and impacting people’s lives?
One of the best ways is the evaluations published by the Pennsylvania Bar Association which has no political affiliation. The Pa. Bar Association selects a Judicial Evaluation Commission to evaluate and report on the qualifications of judicial candidates for the Pa. courts of appeal. The Commission consists of lawyers and non-lawyers from across the Commonwealth. According to the Commission Chairman, Robert F. Morris, “the Commission only recommends potential candidates who have the legal ability, experience, integrity and temperament to provide satisfactory or outstanding performance as appellate judges and justices.”
Here is the link to the Commission’s report which rates the candidates as highly qualified, qualified or unqualified. Any candidate that did not request evaluation by the Commission is not listed. Also, the report on the judges who are already serving but are up for retention has not yet been published. Take just a few minutes and you will see all of the ratings. In 30 minutes you can read the evaluations and understand why the candidates received those ratings. It is important information and time well spent.
On the campaign flyer I received one superior court judge candidate I was urged to vote for was Mary Murray who has not been rated. I suspect the reason why she did not volunteer for a rating is that she only has judicial experience as a district justice in what is known as small claims or majestrate court. She has never even served as a county court judge and now she seeks to be elected to the Pa. Superior Court. That’s the problem with campaign literature, its primary focus is political, not accurate information.
Don’t forget to vote on November 7.