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3 Reasons why

You should vote for judges

So, why should you vote for judges?

  • They have power: Judges set bail amounts and the length of sentencing. They can also recommend mental health and addiction support services as an alternative to jail. 
  • They set the bar: Judges can make and use their rulings to amplify issues, like prison overcrowding and criminal justice reform.
  • They could decide your fate: With over 40 million lawsuits filed every year, there is a chance you or a loved one may come before a judge.

Who’s Running for Judge in PA?

Pennsylvanians will choose the people presiding over courts from city to state this year. Here’s what you need to know to cast your ballot.

Who’s Running for Judge in PA?

Pennsylvanians will choose the people presiding over courts from city to state this year. Here’s what you need to know to cast your ballot.

In Pennsylvania, for better or worse, voters are asked every two years to vote for judges at every level of the court system, from Municipal to State Supreme. But our system here for choosing those judges is arbitrary. Campaign rules for judicial candidates limit what they can say and do on the trail; ballot position in Philly is determined by the traditional pulling of numbers from a 100-year-old Horn & Hardart can; and—surprise, surprise—the winners are very often those whose names appear closest to the top.

This is not the way an important decision that could change your, or your community’s fate, should be made.

To put this together, Better Civics sent candidates a shorter version of the robust questionnaire the Philadelphia Bar Association uses to decide which aspiring judge to “recommend” or “highly recommend” based on their own thorough committee-led investigation.

The reality is that voting for judges can be overwhelming, with confusion over what the courts are, what endorsements mean and the sheer number of names that appear on the ballot. In fact, according to a study commissioned by Better Civics this year, almost 20 percent of all Philadelphia voters choose not to vote for judges.

That’s too bad, because judges carry a hefty load of responsibilities, including ensuring that laws are followed fairly, setting legal precedents and maintaining equal justice under the law.

This pyramid shows the different judicial branches in PennsylvaniaThis guide offers a high-level understanding of our city’s judicial election process and some of the candidates competing for a coveted seat on the bench in the 2021 general in Pennsylvania.

We focused on candidates for Municipal Court and Court of Common Pleas, as they are typically the judges anyone encounters when interacting with our local judicial system. (Below, you’ll also see who’s running for Supreme Court justice.)

To put this together, Better Civics sent candidates a shorter version of the robust questionnaire the Philadelphia Bar Association uses to decide which aspiring judge to “recommend” or “highly recommend” based on their own thorough committee-led investigation.

Our team of researchers then reviewed and summarized the answers; we’ve also included a link to the full questionnaire they submitted to us. If a candidate is not recommended by the Bar, it could be for a number of reasons, including not having enough courtroom experience, having an ethical controversy or simply not submitting their application in time, based on when they decided to run.

If a candidate is not recommended by the Bar, it could be for a number of reasons, including not having enough courtroom experience, having an ethical controversy or simply not submitting their application in time, based on when they decided to run.

Reading through these judicial profiles is a great first step. But don’t stop here. We encourage you to dig deeper. Do more research. Ask more questions.

RELATED: Learn about all the other candidates on Philadelphia ballots, and what ballot questions you’ll be deciding in our voters’ guide to the 2021 general election

Our goal, in addition to educating voters, is to create a demand for more transparent and accessible access to judicial candidates and their platforms. We believe that when voters are more informed, we make better choices and can demand a shift in voting culture that normalizes accountability.

Want to skip ahead? See who’s running for a seat on the …

Why you should care about voting for judges

A gavel in a courtroom
Photo by Joe Gratz / Flickr
  • They have power: Judges set bail amounts and the length of sentencing. They can also recommend mental health and addiction support services as an alternative to jail.
  • They set the bar: Judges can make and use their rulings to amplify issues, like prison overcrowding and criminal justice reform.
  • They could decide your fate: With over 40 million lawsuits filed every year, there is a chance you or a loved one may come before a judge.

Who's running for judge in PA in 2021

[Editors note: We reached out to all candidates and included answers from the ones who submitted their questionnaire. For the rest, we culled information from their websites. For the most up-to-date information, including candidate’s endorsements, visit them online.]

Court of Common Pleas Candidates

There are 12 vacancies on this court, which is known as a “general trial jurisdiction court,” because the Courts of Common Pleas are organized into 60 judicial districts. This court is responsible for hearing criminal and civil cases, including those involving families and children; hearing appeals from the minor courts and appeals not exclusively assigned to another court; and holding civil, criminal and jury trials.

Sample court cases include divorce, property division, alimony, custody and child support, paternity and protection orders. Here’s who’s running:

Pennsylvania judge candidate Wendi BarishWendi Barish, Democrat

Current position: Senior Deputy General Counsel Acting Vice President of Human Resources for the Philadelphia Housing Authority

Philadelphia Bar rating: Recommended

Zip code: 19106

Barish has a background in employment and civil rights law, and now oversees legal matters for PHA, including issues related to protests over homelessness and police reform. A Democratic Committeeperson since 2017, she ran unsuccessfully for judge in 2017 and 2019. She has served on the boards of several nonprofits, including The Wardrobe and Settlement Music School. Barish, one of three siblings who grew up in the Northeast with a single mother, says she was inspired by the experience of her older sister, who has disabilities, to become a lawyer to “protect the rights of others as well as the civil rights laws which I believe people should never have had to fight for.”

In her words: “I am invested in my community and believe every person deserves to be treated with dignity in the courtroom. I have great respect for the law and feel passionate about applying it equitably and equally. There are several ways I would strive to improve our system of justice. I would do so by recognizing my implicit bias and not allowing it to impact my impartiality. I would also set the tone in the courtroom and ensure all people are treated with respect. In addition, I would continue to be a legal scholar and not render decisions without being fully acquainted with the relevant law. Finally, I would demonstrate the utmost regard for all judicial codes of conduct and ethics.” Read her full questionnaire.

Monica N. Gibbs, Democrat

Current position: Assistant General Counsel for the Delaware River Port Authority

Philadelphia Bar rating: Not evaluated

Zip code: We have contacted Gibbs for more information

A Philadelphia native, Gibbs is an attorney with a background in civil and criminal litigation. She started her career “representing indigent defendants in criminal court as a staff attorney with the non-profit Defender Association of Philadelphia.” Later, she became “a civil litigator with a focus on products, premises and motor vehicle liability.” She currently works as assistant general council for the Delaware River Port Authority, where she “negotiates Collective Bargaining Agreements and manages labor matters between the Authority and its represented employees.”

In her own words: TBD

PA judicial candidate Christopher HallChris Hall, Democrat

Current position: White Collar criminal defense and government litigation practice.

Philadelphia Bar rating: Highly recommended

Zip code: 19118

For the past 15 years, Chris Hall has had his own white collar criminal defense and government litigation practice. Before that, he worked in the Justice Department, for whom he brought the first environmental justice prosecution in Pennsylvania, against a a corporate asbestos dumper who had violated the Clean Air Act, achieving a $1.5 million settlement for residents whose homes in the Cobbs Creek neighborhood of Southwest Philly were damaged; and the first predatory lending prosecution in the state, to stop mortgage brokers and banks preying on communities of color in North Philadelphia. Outside of work, Hall, along with his wife, co-founded Breakthrough Bike Challenge, which raises about $300,000 a year for Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center.

In his own words: “As the grandson, son, husband, and parent of teachers, I have been taught —and now seek to pass on—the importance of fairness. That is why I am running to serve as a Judge on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas—to ensure equal justice is served for all and to fight systemic racism and sexism within the judicial system.” Read his full questionnaire.

PA judicial candidate Michelle HangleyMichele Hangley, Democrat

Current position: Lawyer, Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller

Philadelphia Bar rating: Highly Recommended

Zip code: 19147

Michelle Hangley was one of the lead attorneys defending Pennsylvania and local election officials in more than 20 lawsuits stemming from the 2020 election, and in the 2018 lawsuit over congressional redistricting.

The rest of her practice is divided between legal malpractice cases and a variety of corporate, environmental and civil rights issues. Hangley has served on the board of the Nationalities Service Center, and been a member of several civic and school groups, including Bella Vista Neighbors’ Association.

Hangley, a single mother who grew up in Philly attending public schools, was one of the “Central Six”—the first girls (controversially) admitted to Central High School just before her senior year. She says that experience is key to the work she has done, and takes as her role model for judge The Honorable William Marutani, whose ruling on the case opened the doors to all genders.

In her words: “Judge Marutani’s opinion was precise, careful, and thorough… I believe that a ruling that reached the same result, but seemed unfair or one-sided, would have fanned the flames and made the situation worse for all involved. From this, I learned first hand that a judge’s appearance of fairness and impartiality is more than just a good in itself; it has a concrete, positive effect on the way that litigants and the public respond to the judge’s decisions.” Read her full questionnaire.

PA judicial candidate Nick KamauNick Kamau, Democrat

Current position: Attorney with Legis Group LLC

Philadelphia Bar rating: Highly Recommended

Zip code: 19131

Kamau served as a public defender, then a prosecutor, before turning to civil litigation with a focus on personal injury, civil rights and civil defense. He served as Democratic counsel for the Congressional Oversight and Government Reform Committee under Congressman Elijah Cummings during President Obama’s tenure, where he worked on voter protection, and the Affordable Care Act. He volunteers at his church.

In his words: “I firmly believe the pursuit of justice is one of the most noble.” Kamau did not submit a questionnaire.

PA judicial candidate Craig LevinCraig Levin, Democrat

Current position: Senior Partner, Friedman & Levin Associates

Philadelphia Bar rating: Recommended

Zip code: 19103

Previous Public Office Position: Former 8th Ward Committeeperson and Judge of Elections

Levin estimates that he has handled more than 2,000 cases, mostly civil litigation, including personal injury, estate issues, family law, real estate and employment and contract disputes. Levin is Chair of the Legal Department at the Philadelphia Democratic Party and has been a Committee Person in the 8th Ward, and is also an arbitrator for the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, which means that he serves on a panel with other lawyers to make judgements on civil cases of $50,000 or less.

He serves on the Board of Governors of the Philadelphia Bar Association, is a member of Louis D. Brandeis Law Society, Justinian Society, NAACP, Philadelphia Trial Lawyers, Pennsylvania Association for Justice, and New Jersey Association for Justice. Levin is also on the board of the Community Forgiveness and Restoration Initiative, and has served for 10 years as pro-bono counsel to S.A.L.E.A, an organization that supports Philadelphia’s Spanish-American community, and is a volunteer attorney for the SeniorLaw Center.

In his words: “Not only are we coming into a post pandemic world, forever transformed, but we are entering a new era where equity disparity, fairness, impartiality, and a true understanding of the meaning of these concepts are more important than ever. On top of all these challenges, the significant backlog of cases in our courts has become worse due to the shutdown caused by Covid-19. As an attorney I have always taken a practical, yet detailed approach to my cases. As a judge, I will continue that approach and take an active interest in the cases that I am assigned to help reduce the backlog of cases. In my experience, when a judge takes a noticeably active interest in a case, it has helped all parties and made it more likely that matter would resolve prior to trial.” Read his full questionnaire.

Leanne L. Litwin, Democrat

Current position:Trial Attorney and Major Trials Judge Pro Tempore, Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County

Philadelphia Bar rating: Not evaluated

Zip code: We have reached out to Litwin for more information

A trial attorney for 34 years, Litwin primarily “litigates matters for a wide spectrum of clients, from small business owners to individuals. Her legal practice focuses on three main areas: civil litigation, criminal defense and family law.” Litwin “has significant experience representing defendants charged with violating state and federal laws in the five-county area. She has tried hundreds of cases before judges, juries and arbitration panels in State and Federal courts.”

In her own words: TBD

PA judicial candidate Cateria McCabeCateria R. McCabe, Democrat

Current position: (Appointed) Judge in the Juvenile Branch of Family Court

Philadelphia Bar rating: Recommended

Zip code: 19150

Previous Public Office Position: Committeeperson 2001-2002; Arraignment Court Magistrate August–December 2019.

As a judge in the Juvenile Branch of Family Court, McCabe hears dependency cases of abused, neglected or truant children; her job is to protect children and preserve families. Immediately prior to her appointment to the bench in 2019, she was an Arraignment Court Magistrate. Before that, she practiced law for almost 30 years, including as an Army JAG. McCabe has worked in private practice, public interest, and for the City of Philadelphia and has served as an arbitrator. She ran unsuccessfully for judge in 2003, 2005 and 2019.

In her words: “In addition to being a legal advocate for my clients, I am committed to efforts to achieve systemic changes that impact many to improve the lives of people who I will never meet. While I have been active in community service organizations, participation in advocacy is my passion. The need for community service is great but systemic changes though effective advocacy will help alleviate the need for community service. It is with this spirit that I seek to serve the citizens of Philadelphia.” Read her full questionnaire.

PA judicial candidate Mark MooreMark Moore, Democrat

Current position: Court of Common Pleas Judge (appointed 2020)

Philadelphia Bar rating: Highly Recommended

Zip code: 19128

Moore was appointed to the Court of Common Pleas by Governor Wolf in July, 2020 and took the bench in September. He was previously a trial attorney who worked as an Assistant District Attorney and as a civil defense counsel for Allstate. Moore, who had a brief stint as a journalist, is an active member—with his wife—of New Covenant Church of Philadelphia, and for 10 years was a board member of Northwest Victim Services, which works with crime victims in the 5th, 14th, 35th and 39th Police Districts.

In his words: “I have the fairness, experience, and temperament to serve the citizens of Philadelphia as a Judge. In addition, we need more qualified Judges of color on the bench. Since taking the bench this past September, however, I have had the pleasure of deciding cases or controversies sitting in the Criminal Division of the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia County. It has been a pleasure to preside over cases presented by an exceptionally fine and talented group of lawyers here in the city. It is even more special because some of these attorneys were my former colleagues and adversaries when I was a practicing trial attorney. ” Read his full questionnaire.

John P. Sabatina Jr., Democrat

Current position:Pennsylvania State Senator, 5th District

Philadelphia Bar rating: Not evaluated

Zip code: We have reached out to Sabatina for more info

Sabatina grew up in Northeast Philly, and earned his law degree from the Widener University School of Law. As a sitting state senator, Sabatina is the Democratic Chairman of the Transportation Committee, and sits on several committees, including Agriculture & Rural Affairs, Community Economic & Recreational Development, and Judiciary. Before that, he served as the assistant district attorney under D.A. Lynne Abraham.

In his own words: TBD

PA judicial candidate Dan SulmanDaniel Sulman, Democrat

Current position: Court of Common Pleas Judge

Philadelphia Bar rating: Recommended

Zip code: 19119

Previous Public Office Position: Member of the Board of Revision of Taxes, Judge of Common Pleas, Master in Support in the Domestic Relations Division

Sulman has served in various capacities in the courts, including as a Master, where he says he presided over 10,000 child and spousal support hearings. Gov. Wolf appointed him as a judge in 2016. Three years later, he returned to private practice, focusing on representing low- and middle-income clients in family law cases, until again being appointed in late 2019 as a Common Pleas Court judge. During the pandemic, Sulman served as a judge for emergency child custody and protection from abuse cases.

In his own words: “A judge should conduct proceedings with patience, proper judicial temperament, and respect for the dignity of all who enter the courtroom.” Sulman did not submit a questionnaire.

PA judge candidate Betsy WahlBetsy Wahl, Democrat

Current position: Juvenile Court Hearing Officer

Philadelphia Bar rating: Recommended

Zip code: 19130

Wahl has spent 35 years serving in Philadelphia’s courts, including as a public defender and, since 2002, as a Hearing Officer in Juvenile Court, where she presides over dispositions, probation reviews and violations, and other delinquency matters. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Wahl went to law school and worked at Harvard University’s Prisoner Assistance Program before returning to Philadelphia. She has presided over the city’s Graduated Response Court, designed to turn juveniles around without resorting to long-term placement, and has visited nearly all of Philadelphia’s juvenile placements and programs. Outside of work, Wahl has been a tutor for Project Home and a volunteer “Buddy” for Action Wellness.

In her own words: “I consider it an honor to be entrusted to make the right decisions- and I work tirelessly to do so. I am running for judge to enable me to do more of what I do now. I would certainly bring the qualities I use as a Hearing Officer to a Judgeship. I have the energy and passion to do more, and would welcome the opportunity.” Read her full questionnaire.

Philadelphia Municipal Court Candidates

This photo of JUDGE OF THE MUNICIPAL COURT candidates Gregory Yorgey-Girdy, Michael Lambert, George Twardy, Christian A. DiCicco and Fran McCloskey accompanies a voter guide to the 2021 General Election in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania
From L–R: Gregory Yorgey-Girdy, Michael Lambert, George Twardy, Christian A. DiCicco and Fran McCloskey

There are five vacancies on the Philadelphia Municipal Court, which is responsible for determining whether serious criminal cases go to the Court of Common Pleas; preliminary arraignments and hearings; and setting and accepting bail, except in murder or voluntary manslaughter cases.

Some sample court cases include traffic tickets, landlord-tenant disputes, underage drinking. Here’s who’s running:

Christian A. DiCicco, Democrat

Current position: Owner, Law Offices of Christian DiCicco

Philadelphia Bar rating: Not Evaluated

Zip code: We’ve contacted DiCicco for more information

DiCicco opened his own law office in Philadelphia in 2009, where he specializes in bankruptcy law. He has also worked as a hearing board member for the City of Philadelphia Tax Review Board, a hearing committee member for the Disciplinary Board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and he served as Deputy General Counsel for the Pennsylvania Senate.

In her own words: TBD

PA judicial candidate Michael LambertMichael Lambert, Democrat

Current position: Law Office of Michael Lambert LLC

Philadelphia Bar rating: Not Recommended

Zip code: 19149

After law school at Temple University, Lambert worked as a public defender, before opening his own firm specializing in personal injury, family, and criminal litigation. He has been practicing law for about 20 years. He is a member of Liberty Temple Church, and has been involved with the basketball camp of the Thomas & Woods Foundation, co-founded by Councilmember Isaiah Thomas.

In his own words: “Years of practice that has taken me to both federal and state courts continually championing the causes of the everyday average citizen gives me the clear competence to run a courtroom. More importantly, as a Jamaican-American male my life experience will bring the necessary common-sense yet compassionate and insightful life experiences to be able to fashion equitable solutions to a myriad of situations.” Read his full questionnaire.

Fran McCloskey, Democrat

Current position: Law partner at McCullough McLaughlin Mincarelli & McCloskey

Philadelphia Bar rating: Recommended

Zip code: We’ve reached out to McCloskey for more info

Before joining his current firm, McCloskey spend seven years at the District Attorney’s Office of Philadelphia. There he was assigned to the Gun Violence Task Force, where he “fluent in Pennsylvania gun laws.” He writes that he is “intimately familiar with the myriad diversion programs offered within the court system and an expert at navigating the often tricky passages to those programs.”

In his own words: TBD

George Twardy, pa judicial candidateGeorge Twardy, Democrat

Current position: Common Pleas Court judge

Philadelphia Bar rating: Recommended

Zip code: 19145

Twardy was appointed to the family division of Common Pleas Court in June 2020, after running a private practice that focused on worker’s compensation, personal injury, criminal defense and administrative law. He has also served as a custody hearing officer and truancy hearing officer in the First Judicial Court.

In his words: “At a time when public confidence in our justice system is at an all time low, I am committed to bringing integrity and fairness to the bench.” Twardy did not submit a questionnaire.

Greg Yorgey-Girdy, candidate for judge in PAGregory Yorgey-Girdy, Democrat

Current position: Lawyer, Potter Anderson Corroon LLP

Philadelphia Bar rating: Recommended

Zip code: 19145

Previous Public Office Position: Democratic Committeeperson for the 48th Ward

Yorgey-Girdy began his professional career working for the City of Philadelphia as an Assistant City Solicitor in the Claims Unit before joining the firm Potter Anderson Corroon LLP, where he led the firm’s conflict management efforts. Yorgey-Girdy has been a fierce advocate for often marginalized communities including the LGBT+ community and people of color in Philadelphia. He has been involved with several civic groups, including PhillySetGo, Liberty City Democratic Club, West Passyunk Neighborhood Association, First District Police Advisory Committee and as a lead organizer for the Philly Queer March for Black Lives. In January, Yorgey-Girdy penned an op-ed for the Inquirer making the case that 2021’s judicial elections are crucial for racial justice.

In his own words: “As the father of three young, mixed race children, I have been driven to do whatever I can to create the world I believe they deserve—a world where they are not in danger, much less treated unfairly because of the color of their skin… I am running for judge because I believe I would be an effective and outspoken advocate for a change to court culture that takes into account the red flags raised by the CURE report. I am committed to working toward a transparent and fair court system that celebrates diverse judges and staff and that inspires trust among those the court intends to serve.” Read his full questionnaire.

Judge of the Commonwealth Court Candidates

This photo of Judge of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania candidates Lori A Dumas, David Lee Spurgeon, Stacy Marie Wallace and Drew Crompton accompanies a voter guide to the 2021 General Election in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania
Judge of the Commonwealth Court candidates (L-R) Lori A Dumas, David Lee Spurgeon, Stacy Marie Wallace and Drew Crompton

There are two vacancies on the Commonwealth Court, which hears civil cases involving state or local government. It also hears appeals and sometimes sits as a trial court in certain cases brought by or against the Commonwealth, such as a constitutional challenge to a state law or a tax dispute. Pennsylvania has the only court like it in the country.

  • Lori A Dumas, Democrat
    • Recommended by both the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania bar associations
    • Read Better Civics’ Q&A with Dumas here
  • David Lee Spurgeon, Democrat
    • Highly recommended by the PA Bar Association
    • Read Better Civics’ Q&A with Spurgeon here
  • Drew Crompton, Republican
      • Recommended by the PA Bar Association
  • Stacy Marie Wallace, Republican
        • Not recommended by the PA Bar Association

Judge of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania Candidates

This photo of Judge of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania candidates Timika Lane and Megan Sullivan accompanies a voter guide to the 2021 General Election in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania
Timika Lane (D) and Megan Sullivan (R)

There is one vacancy open in 2021 on the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, which serves as the appeals court for most citizens and businesses. It is one of the busiest intermediate appellate courts in the country, receiving hundreds of thousands of filings per year and deciding more than 8,000 individual cases.

  • Timika Lane, Democrat
    • Read Better Civics’ Q&A with Lane here
    • Recommended by both the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania bar associations
  • Megan Sullivan, Republican
    • Recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association

Justice of the Supreme Court Candidates

This photo of Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania candidates Maria McLaughlin and Kevin Brobson accompanies a voter guide to the 2021 General Election in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania
Maria McLaughlin (D) and Kevin Brobson (R)

At the top of the pyramid sits the Supreme Court, the highest court in the Commonwealth and the oldest appellate court in the nation. There is one vacancy on this court, which is known as the “court of last resort” and can assume jurisdiction over any case in the PA court system. Seven justices serve on the Court and their job is to make the final judgment in interpreting PA’s laws and Constitution.

  • Maria McLaughlin, Democrat
    • Highly recommended by both the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania bar associations
  • Kevin Brobson, Republican
    • Highly recommended by both the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania bar associations

Hillary Do, Natalie Parker, and Julie Platt contributed to the reporting for this piece.

Judicial Retentions

On the last page of your ballot, you’ll be asked if the following incumbent judges should be retained for another term. (You can find an explainer about retention votes in Pennsylvania here.) Simply answer “yes” or “no” about whether or not you think they should keep their seat. Not sure? Following the Pennsylvania and Philadelphia bar association recommendations should help. Each candidate is thoroughly vetted by each organization.

In this case, all below judges are recommended for retention by the Philadelphia Bar Association, except where noted.

SUPERIOR COURT

COMMONWEALTH COURT

COURT OF COMMON PLEAS

MUNICIPAL COURT

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