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Pauline Abernathy’s Judicial Picks

Here's how one citizen breaks down Tuesday's election

As always, below I explain how I am voting and provide links to additional information so you can decide for yourself. See The Philadelphia Citizen’s voter guide for links to the candidates’ websites and the Bar ratings for the judicial candidates.

This election is a reminder of how crazy it is to select judges through partisan elections—Pennsylvania is one of just seven states to do so for every level of judges. If you want to help change this, consider making a donation to the non-profit leading the charge, Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts

Supreme Court: Dwayne Woodruff

This race is really important. The Inky and Daily News did not make an endorsement but the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Patriot-News both endorsed Democrat Dwayne Woodruff, an Allegheny County Common Pleas Court judge and former Steelers defensive back, over anti-choice Republican Sallie Mundy. Woodruff helped make reforms after the “kids for cash debacle and has pushed for a ban on judges accepting gifts, while Mundy favors limits, but not a total ban.

Superior Court (vote for up to 4): Maria McLaughlin, Carolyn Nichols, Debbie Kunselman, Geoff Moulton

The four Democratic candidates were either “recommended” or “highly recommended” by the Bar.

Commonwealth Court (vote for up to 2): Ellen Ceisler and Irene Clark

The Post-Gazette endorsed Democrat Ellen Ceisler and Republican Christine Fizzano Cannon, but I will be voting for Ceisler and Clark. Irene Clark was “not recommended” by the Bar because of what it called “minimal experience” relevant to appellant work, but she was a municipal court judge for 10 years, has done extensive legal work addressing municipal blight and housing for low-income families, and the Bar admits that her “record demonstrates a commitment to justice and a strong work ethic.” Philadelphia Commons Pleas Court Judge Ellen Ceisler previously served as an assistant district attorney, director of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Integrity and Accountability Office, and director of special investigations in the fraud unit of the Philadelphia controller’s office.

Court of Common Pleas (vote for up to 9): Stella Tsai, Vikki Kristiansson, Lucretia Clemons

These are 9 candidates and 9 open seats, so they will all be elected. Unfortunately, some were “not recommended” by the Bar, including Deborah Cianfrani, Shanese Johnson, and Mark Cohen, who is known as a “master of milking the system.” I will vote for Stella Tsai, with whom I served on the City’s Ethics Board, Vikki Kristiansson, a former prosecutor and an expert on domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, and human trafficking, and Lucretia Clemons who also has an impressive background.

Municipal Court: Matt Wolf, Marissa Brumbach

There are two candidates and two open seats. Both were recommended by the Bar.

Judicial Retention:

Supreme Court:  The Bar recommends retaining both Republican Chief Justice Thomas Saylor and Democratic Justice Debra Todd. I will vote no on Saylor and yes on Todd, but both will be retained.

Superior Court:  The Bar recommends retaining Judge Jackie Shogan.

Common Pleas and Municipal Court:

The Bar evaluates judges up for retention and also asks lawyers to rate them. Most get great reviews but four of the judges on the municipal court got very bad reviews: less than 60% of lawyers said they demonstrate the requisite legal ability to perform their judicial duties and were qualified based on their performance. I recommend voting against these four below.

Court of Common Pleas:  The Bar recommended all the judges be retained.

Municipal Court:

James De Leon:  NO (not recommended by the Bar and less than a 60% rating from lawyers)

Karen Simmons:  NO (recommended by the Bar, but less than a 60% rating from lawyers)

Joyce Webb Eubanks:  NO (recommended by the Bar, but less than a 60% rating from lawyers)

Marvin Williams:  NO (not recommended by the Bar and less than a 60% rating from lawyers)

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