That’s the number of candidates in Allegheny County that have thrown their hats into the ring for nine openings on the county’s common pleas court. Voters in Washington and Greene counties will also have to make choices in judicial races next month, and voters in those counties, plus Fayette County, will have to consider candidates for spots on Pennsylvania’s appeals courts.
What’s a conscientious voter to do? How much can you really know about the quality of candidates if you are not plugged into the local or statewide legal community?
Last week, the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh sought to cut through the fog of mailers, television ads and confusion in the online forum, “How to Evaluate a Judicial Candidate.”
One of the speakers at Tuesday’s event was Heather Heidelbaugh, the Mt. Lebanon attorney and Republican who came within 4 percentage points of defeating incumbent Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro last November. She has served multiple terms on the Allegheny County Bar Association’s Judiciary Committee, along with the forum’s other speaker, Democrat Caroline Mitchell.
Mitchell said the committee considers “whether we would want that person judging one of our most critical cases.”
The committee gives out four recommendations for common pleas seats: highly recommended; recommended; not recommended at this time; and unqualified. “Highly recommended” designations are given to those who enjoy a reputation for standing at the top of the local legal community, have the temperament for the job and have made noteworthy contributions to their profession and the communities in which they live.
On the other hand, candidates deemed “unqualified” by the committee lack the credentials to be a judge, have been found to have abused the legal system, or have been accused of misdeeds like sexual harassment.
“You have to do something pretty bad to get an ‘unqualified,’” Mitchell said.
“Recommended” means the candidate might be a good judge, but perhaps with additional seasoning, and “not recommended at this time,” denotes a candidate who could be qualified at some point, but not now.
“They may be a good lawyer, but they don’t have enough time in the saddle,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell and Heidelbaugh also said voters should look at whether a candidate has the mental and physical capacity to do the job and whether they are financially responsible.
“The electorate really needs to vote for the very best,” Heidelbaugh said.
The Washington County Bar Association has posted information on two common pleas court candidates and multiple candidates for magisterial district judge in four county districts at www.washcobar.org/news.