Jon Campisi May 24, 2013, 7:58am

A western Pennsylvania trial court judge beat out a Philadelphia jurist in the Democratic

race for an open seat on the state’s Superior Court.

The victory in the May 21 primary election went to Jack McVay, Jr., an Allegheny County Common Pleas Court judge.

McVay secured a win over Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Joseph C. Waters, Jr. with 55.46 percent of the vote, compared with Waters’ 44.54 percent, according to state election returns.

The Democratic nomination for Superior Court judge was the only statewide judicial race on Tuesday’s ballot, with voters from across the state weighing in.

Superior Court is Pennsylvania’s lower-tier appellate bench directly beneath the state Supreme Court.

It handles most appeals to come out of counties’ Courts of Common Pleas.

The bench consists of 15 judges who hold 10-year terms.

McVay secured more than 284,000 statewide votes while Waters received just over 228,000.

In southeastern Pennsylvania, however, Waters appeared to be the favorite, with the Municipal Court judge receiving 88.39 percent of the vote in Philadelphia compared with McVay’s 11.61 percent of the vote, election returns show.

McVay will go up against Republican Vic Stabile, who ran unopposed in the primary, during November’s general election.

Stabile is a veteran attorney and longtime partner with the firm Dilworth Paxson. He specializes in complex commercial and business litigation.

McVay, who had received a rating of “recommended” by the Pennsylvania Bar Association, has sat on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas since 2007.

He is currently assigned to the Family Division, handling juvenile dependency, delinquency and adult cases, his professional resume shows.

McVay previously served as both an assistant solicitor for Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh, and he is recognized for his “diligence, excellent temperament and willingness to employ unique solutions in matters that come before him,” the PBA had said in a statement at the time it recommended McVay for the Superior Court post.

“While the Candidate has limited experience before the appellate courts, the Commission found that he has the legal ability, experience, integrity and judicial temperament to perform satisfactory on the Superior Court and recommends his candidacy,” the PBA stated.

The commission referred to by the PBA is the association’s Judicial Evaluation Commission, which rates judicial candidates.

Even the editorial board of the Philadelphia Inquirer, seemingly worlds away from the Allegheny jurist’s home turf, had urged voters to choose McVay, writing in an editorial earlier this month that McVay,56, brings more “bench and legal experience” that make him “well-suited to Superior Court.”

Before becoming a judge, Waters, 60, spent two decades as a Philadelphia police officer, including time as a captain, and also is a retired marine.

The Legal Intelligencer reported that some political observers believe McVay may have had the upper hand because there were more contests for local positions in Tuesday’s primary election, such as school board, than there were in Philadelphia County, which reportedly saw a slim turnout at the polls.

The Legal Intelligencer quoted Waters as saying that “I got beat by a ghost and geography.”

The court holds regular sessions throughout the year in Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.

The vacancy is due to the fact that sitting Superior Court Judge John Musmanno recently turned 70, and is mandatorily required to retire from the bench at the end of the year.

The state constitutional provision that forces judges to retire by the end of the year in which they turn 70 is currently the subject of debate, with one legislator already having sponsored a bill that would raise the judicial retirement age to 75, or scrap it altogether.

This week’s judicial elections also come during a time when some court reformers question whether Pennsylvania should go the way of a majority of other states, which choose their jurists through a process known as “merit selection,” whereby candidates are vetted through a panel of lawyers and others, and then sent to the governor, whose nominees would be subject to state Senate approval.

The Keystone State remains one of only a handful of states that still choose judges through partisan elections.

There is a merit selection bill currently pending in the General Assembly.

Advocates of merit selection contend judicial elections are tainted by campaign dollars and possibilities for corruption.

The push toward merit selection comes in the wake of a ticket-fixing scandal at Philadelphia Traffic Court and the recent corruption conviction of former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, who recently resigned her post after being found guilty of using her judicial staff for campaign work.

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