Jim Boyle Jan. 29, 2015, 3:35pm


HARRISBURG - A crowded field of judicial hopefuls have announced their campaigns to win one of three seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in November.

The Pennsylvania Bar Association Judicial Evaluation Commission (PBA JEC) has ranked each of the 13 candidates, placing a lot of weight on experience on the Superior Court bench.

The PBA JEC released its ratings Wednesday of potential judicial candidates seeking election to the state’s appellate courts in November. Each candidate requesting an evaluation by the PBA JEC is eligible to receive a rating of "Highly Recommended," "Recommended" or "Not Recommended."

Judges Cheryl Allen, Christine Donohue, Anne Lazarus and David Wecht, all currently serving in the Pennsylvania Superior Court, received the highly recommended marks.

Each candidate received similar explanatiosn for their high ranking, highlighting their experience serving the law and providing well-reasoned, clear and concise opinions.

Supreme Court Justice Correale Stevens, currently serving an interim term after his appointment in 2013, has also been highly recommended by the PBA JEC.

"With the large slate of candidates vying this year for the three seats open on the Supreme Court and one each on the Superior and Commonwealth courts, voters will be challenged to make informed choices of those candidates best suited to serve as fair, impartial and knowledgeable appellate court judges,” said Robert F. Morris, chair of the PBA JEC.

“The PBA JEC seeks to give voters guidance by only recommending potential candidates who have the legal ability, experience, integrity and temperament needed to provide satisfactory or outstanding performance as judges on our appellate courts."

Most of the remaining candidates earned recommended ratings, including Superior Court Judge John Bender and Commonwealth Court Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer. The remainder of the field consists of judges serving on the county level, such as Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Administrative Judge Kevin Dougherty and President Judge of the Adams Court of Common Pleas Michael George.

Rebecca Warren, district attorney of Montour County and the only candidate that does not currently serve on the bench, received the sole not recommended rating from the PBA JEC. The explanation of the rating cited her lack of experience on the appellate level.

The PBA JEC based its ratings for each candidate on a two-part evaluation process. Investigative panels conducted the first phase of the process, which included personal interviews with the candidates and with individuals who have had professional or personal dealings with them. Upon completion of the investigative process, the panels submitted confidential reports to the commission.

Upon receipt and review of the investigative panel’s report, the commission conducted the second phase of the evaluation process. The commission interviewed each candidate in Harrisburg, discussed his or her qualifications and reached consensus on each candidate's rating.

Stevens currently serves in one of the three seats up for election. He replaced Justice Joan Orie Melvin in July 2013 after her resignation following her conviction on charges of using her staff for political purposes when she was a state Superior Court judge campaigning for a seat on the Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009.

The other two seats have been left vacant after former Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Petrille's reached the required retirement age and Justice Seamus McCaffery resigned amid allegations of improper behavior when explicit emails he allegedly sent to staffers at the Attorney General's Office were made public.

New Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has announced his plan to name interim justices to fill the two spots until the November election.

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