Pa. Bar Assoc. recommends four state appellate court judges for retention

By Jon Campisi | Sep 13, 2013

All four Pennsylvania appellate court judges facing retention votes in the

upcoming November election have been recommended for retention by the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Judicial Evaluation Commission, the organization announced last week.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, an established jurist from the eastern part of the state who once served as Philadelphia’s District Attorney, along with fellow Justice Max Baer received recommendations, as did Superior Court Judges Susan

Peikes Gantman and Jack A. Panella.

“Our commission’s duty is to provide information that Pennsylvanians want and need to make informed voting decisions about judicial candidates,” Erie County attorney Steven E. “Tim” Riley, Jr., chair of the PBA’s Judicial Evaluation Commission, said in a statement. “Following our investigative evaluations, we recommend only those candidates that will best serve in Pennsylvania’s courts.”

Appeals court judges, like trial court jurists and magisterial district judges, are chosen by the electorate through partisan elections in Pennsylvania, one of only a handful of states that pick its judges in this manner.

Appellate judges are elected to 10-year terms, after which they face retention votes.

Because retention elections require only a “yes” or “no” vote by citizens at

the polls, the PBA’s commission simply rates candidates as either “recommended for retention” or “not recommended for retention.”

Commission members base their findings on judicial candidates on a two-part evaluative process.

Investigative panels conduct the first phase, which involves an in-depth review of a candidate’s completed questionnaire, an analysis of written opinions authored by the retention candidate within the past three to five years, and interviews with jurists and attorneys who have appeared before the candidates, according to the PBA.

The panels will then submit confidential written reports to the commission containing its preliminary, non-binding recommendations.

The following is a breakdown of the four appellate judges recommended for retention:

Castille, a Vietnam veteran who previously served as Philadelphia’s top law enforcer, was elected to a seat on the Supreme Court in 1993.

Voters retained him for another 10-year term in 2003.

Castille, who was chosen by his colleagues as chief justice five years ago, is often credited with leading the effort to reform the Philadelphia court system, for strengthening and improving judicial discipline, and for urging attorneys to offer public interest and legal services work by initiating a law school loan repayment assistance program for their benefit, according to the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

Castille, the PBA stated in a news release, “is recognized for his friendly and forthcoming demeanor, excellent judicial temperament, strong work ethic and substantial output of articulate and well-reasoned opinions.”

The PBA’s commission said it is urging voters to retain Castille, despite the fact that the jurist is turning 70, the state’s mandatory retirement age for judges, and would only be able to serve out a new term through the end of 2014.

The reason – “the commission believes the citizens of the commonwealth would be well served by the steadying influence of his continuing leadership.”

Baer, the other justice up for retention, is a past Allegheny County Common Pleas Court judge who was elected to the high court in 2004.

The jurist, the PBA’s commission stated, “has distinguished himself by his legal and administrative abilities, integrity and judicial temperament, all of which have been necessary to fulfill the challenging role as a member of the commonwealth’s highest court.”

Baer, the commission continued, is a “collegial member of the court and a consensus builder,” and pens “clear, intelligent and well-reasoned opinions that reflect the respect of established law, the precedents set forth by prior Supreme Court decisions and the decision-making responsibility imposed upon that court.”

As for the two Superior Court judges up for retention, the PBA’s commission had words of praise for each.

Gantman, has served on the Superior Court, one of two of Pennsylvania’s intermediary appellate courts, since 2004.

The jurist is recognized as possessing “exemplary knowledge of legal principles and procedures and is scholarly and energetic,” the commission stated. “She demonstrates sound judgment and possesses the requisite judicial temperament.”

Gantman was also praised for her frequent participation in continuing legal education programs, and is known for her integrity and personal character, the commission wrote.

“Judge Gantman has clearly demonstrated all the qualities necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of an appellate judge,” the commission stated.

Panella, also a Superior Court judge since 2004, previously served as chairman of the Judicial Conduct Board, the investigative arm of the state’s Court of Judicial Discipline, and he has been an active member of the Commission for Justice Initiatives in Pennsylvania, according to the PBA’s bio.

The jurist also wrote a report for the Supreme Court that evaluated and suggested changes to the information available to members of the public on the court’s website.

Panella, whom the PBA’s commission says has written opinions that are “well-reasoned, clear and concise,” has received numerous accolades for his leadership capabilities and his service to the legal community, according to the PBA.

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