The Berks County Court of Common Pleas has 11 of 13 judges currently sitting. Two positions, Justices Peter Schmehl and Linda Ludgate, have opened due to a mandatory retirement age of 70. Eight candidates are fighting for votes to move on to the general election in November.
“Coming out of May there can be two, three or four candidates that will go into the November election,” said judicial candidate Theresa Johnson who is the First Assistant to the Berks County District Attorney.
Johnson has been prosecuting criminal cases for more than 15 years. She also oversees all investigations in Berks County that make use of wire taps.
Mahlon Boyer, who has been an attorney since graduating from Villanova Law in 2003 and is an attorney with Bingaman Hess, has decided that he is not going to take donations for his campaign and is not as extensively advertising.
“People should not vote for who has the most money,” Boyer said. His only website is a facebook page and a profile page on the Berks County GOP website which all of the candidates have. The Berks County GOP has not specifically endorsed a particular candidate for the primaries, which are May 21.
Boyer’s opponents agree that politics should not be involved when electing a judge and that knowing the qualifications of the judges is much better.
“I think maturity is a critical component. Most of the candidates that I’m opposed to are in their mid 40s,” candidate Peter Schiaroli said.
“When I got out of law school I became a judicial clerk for a judge by the name of W. Richard Eschelmen,” Schiaroli said.
Schiaroli was Eschelmen’s last clerk before he retired. At that point Schiaroli knew that someday he wanted to be a judge.
“The question wasn’t if, but when,” Schiaroli said.
Schiaroli has since been a defense attorney, who has dealt with criminal and civil litigation. He feels that he has a wealth of experience that the other candidates do not have. His practice includes hearings and trials in forfeitures, criminal, juvenile, orphans and family.
What the candidates all have in common is that they have at some point in time worked in criminal trials and many believe that the criminal problems that come out of Berks County come from the use and distribution of drugs.
They all agree that the distribution of drugs leads to the murders, robberies and rapes that occur throughout Berks County.
“You can make the community by working together,” Madelyn Fudeman said. She believes that by pulling the community together it can become inhospitable to crime.
Fudeman, 56, of Cumru, however can be considered unique in that she worked as a court reporter in Dade County, Fla., during the Manuel Norega trial in the 1990s.
“The judge did not want to give an interview because he wanted Norega to have due process,” Fudeman explained. During that time, she was a prosecutor in the Dade County District Attorney’s office. A local television station wanted her to cover the trial where she gained experience relaying the information to the public.
Fudeman is the president of her firm Essig, Valeriano and Fudeman, P.C., where she mostly practices family law, land use and wills and estate planning.
She believes that lawyers get a bad reputation and that she, along with her opponents, have done a lot of good.
“You have to do business, what let’s you rest your head are the people that you can help,” Fudeman said.
What all of the candidates took time to consider is how the campaign would be affecting their personal lives.
Jim Smith, 43, of Richmond Township, with a law degree from Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. said that a friend gave him advice on how to effectively keep his personal life and campaign life together.
“He said to involve you kids only as much as they want to be involved,” Smith said.
Smith began his legal career in the Berks County District Attorney’s office but found that criminal court was not for him and eventually opened his own practice in Fleetwood; Smith Law Group. He practices civil law with issues ranging from landlord/tenant disputes to insurance claims prosecution.
“Winning a seat as judge would not be worth it if I lost my family in the process,” Smith said.
Pat Barrett, 53, has been a practicing lawyer for more than 26 years and has tried cases in 14 different counties throughout Pennsylvania. He is also a certified federal mediator who has been called to mediate between arguing parties to get them to settle before going to court.
“I’ve been through hundreds of trials, mediations and arbitrations,” Barrett said.
John Muir, 45, has been practicing law for more than 26 years and 15 of those have been trying significant jury cases. He, like all of the candidates, believes that experience is a significant component of a judge and feels that despite his young age he has the necessary experience.
Candidate Eleni Dimitriou Geishauser did not respond to requests for an interview from Berks-Mont Newspapers. Based on her profile page on her law firm’s, Dimitriou Geishauser, P.C., website she began practicing law with her late father, Emmanuel H. Dimitriou, in 1996 after passing the Bar. She practices family law, wills, trusts and estates and Real Estate. She is a member of the Berks County and American Bar Associations and is admitted to practice before the U.S. court of Appeals, Third Circuit.
The election to narrow the field will take place on Tuesday, May 21. The two candidates who are voted into the court will begin their first 10-year term in 2014.