The Pennsylvania Bar Association Judicial Evaluation Commission today released its ratings of two Supreme Court justices and two Superior Court judges who are standing for retention in the November 2013 election.
The ratings for the retention candidates are as follows:
* Justice Max Baer, Supreme Court of Pennsylvania - Recommended for Retention
* Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, Supreme Court of Pennsylvania - Recommended for Retention
* Judge Susan Peikes Gantman, Superior Court of Pennsylvania - Recommended for Retention
* Judge Jack A. Panella, Superior Court of Pennsylvania - Recommended for Retention
“Our commission’s duty is to provide information that Pennsylvanians want and need to make informed voting decisions about judicial candidates,” said Erie County lawyer Steven E. (Tim) Riley Jr., chair of the PBA JEC. “Following our investigative evaluations, we recommend only those candidates that will best serve in Pennsylvania’s courts.”
Because retention elections require only a “Yes” or “No” vote of the public, the commission rates retention candidates either as “Recommended for Retention” or “Not Recommended for Retention.”
The commission based its findings for each candidate on a two-part evaluation process. Investigative panels conducted the first phase of the process, which included a thorough review of the candidate’s completed questionnaire, an analysis of written opinions authored by the retention candidate within the last three to five years, and interviews with judges and lawyers who have appeared before the retention candidate.
The panels then submitted confidential written reports to the commission outlining their preliminary, non-binding recommendations.
The commission members reviewed the questionnaires and opinions as well as the investigative panel reports, and where necessary, interviewed the panel chairs before rendering its own evaluation and recommendation.
Serving with Riley in the leadership of the PBA JEC is Montgomery County lawyer Robert F. Morris as vice chair and Allegheny County lawyer Chris F. Gillotti as immediate past chair. Lawyer members include A. Harold Datz of Philadelphia County; Richard A. Estacio of Philadelphia County; Nancy Lauffer Heilman of Allegheny County; Sharon R. Lopez of Lancaster County; Heidi B. Masano of Berks County; Pamela J. Mayer of Cambria County; C. Edward S. Mitchell of Lycoming County; Kimberly Moses of Allegheny County; Kathryn Lease Simpson of Dauphin County; and Lorrie Elylice Whitfield of Monroe County. Non-lawyer members are Denice Ferranti-Robinson of Fayette County; Ernest F. Salvino of Centre County; Susan Sherman of Philadelphia County; John D. Unangst of Delaware County; Diane Wakefield of Beaver County; and Matthew Woessner of Dauphin County.
Founded in 1895, the Pennsylvania Bar Association exists to promote justice, professional excellence and respect of the law; improve public understanding of the justice system; and facilitate access to legal services. The PBA represents more than 28,000 lawyers who are licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania.
Editor’s notes: The PBA JEC’s descriptions of its findings for each retention candidate are below. An electronic version of this information and the candidates’ questionnaires can be found in the Media Center of the PBA website at http://www.pabar.org and the PBA-sponsored voter education website, PAVoteSmart, at http://www.pavotesmart.com.
SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA
Justice Max Baer, Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Recommended for Retention
The Candidate was elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2004. He previously served as an elected member of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County from 1990 until his election to the Supreme Court. In his service to the citizens of Pennsylvania, the Candidate 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. He is a collegial member of the court and a consensus builder. He writes clear, intelligent and well-reasoned opinions that reflect respect of established law, the precedents set forth by prior Supreme Court decisions and the decision-making responsibility imposed upon that court. For these reasons, the commission believes that Justice Baer should be permitted to continue his distinguished service to the court and the public and, therefore, recommends his retention.
Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Recommended for Retention
A highly decorated Vietnam veteran who previously had served as district attorney in Philadelphia, the Candidate was elected to the Supreme Court in 1993 and retained by the voters in 2003. Since becoming chief justice five years ago, he has presided over the Supreme Court and Pennsylvania’s Unified Judicial System during an especially challenging and tumultuous period that has included the Luzerne County “Cash for Kids” scandal, the Philadelphia Traffic Court ticket-fixing scandal and the conviction and resignation of former Justice Orie Melvin, among other things. He is credited for his efforts in reorganizing the court system in Philadelphia, for strengthening and improving the judicial discipline system, and for encouraging lawyers to render public interest and legal services work by initiating a law school loan repayment assistance program for their benefit. He is recognized for his friendly and forthcoming demeanor, excellent judicial temperament, strong work ethic and substantial output of articulate and well-reasoned opinions. Although he would face mandatory retirement and serve only through the end of 2014 if retained, the commission believes the citizens of the commonwealth would be well served by the steadying influence of his continuing leadership and recommends his retention.
SUPERIOR COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA
Judge Susan Peikes Gantman
Rating: Recommended for Retention
The Candidate has served as a judge of the Superior Court since 2004. She is recognized as possessing exemplary knowledge of legal principles and procedures and is scholarly and energetic. She demonstrates sound judgment and possesses the requisite judicial temperament. Her opinions are clear, concise and thorough. The Candidate has demonstrated her devotion to improving the quality of justice by her frequent participation in continuing legal education programs and other educational areas. Her integrity and personal character are beyond reproach and she is held in high esteem by members of the legal profession who practice before her. Judge Gantman has clearly demonstrated all the qualities necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of an appellate judge, and the commission recommends her retention.
Judge Jack A. Panella
Rating: Recommended for Retention
The Candidate has served on the Superior Court since 2004. In tandem with his duties as an appellate judge, the candidate has served as chair of the Judicial Conduct Board and has been an active member of the Commission for Justice Initiatives in Pennsylvania. In the latter role, as part of the commission’s public outreach effort, he authored a report to the Supreme Court evaluating and suggesting changes to the information available to the public on the court’s website. He has an excellent judicial temperament and a reputation for being a thoughtful and respected jurist. His written opinions are well-reasoned, clear and concise. He has been the recipient of numerous honors for his leadership and service to the legal community and to the public. Judge Panella has clearly demonstrated all the qualities necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of an appellate judge, and the commission recommends his retention.