Future Pa. justices on display

    Listen
     State Superior Court judge Christine Donohue, from right, state Superior Court Judge David Wecht, Philadelphia Judge Paul Panepinto, state Superior Court Judge Judith Olson, Adams County Judge Michael George, Philadelphia Judge Kevin Dougherty and state Commonwealth Court Judge Anne Covey participate in a Pennsylvania Supreme Court debate Wednesday. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    State Superior Court judge Christine Donohue, from right, state Superior Court Judge David Wecht, Philadelphia Judge Paul Panepinto, state Superior Court Judge Judith Olson, Adams County Judge Michael George, Philadelphia Judge Kevin Dougherty and state Commonwealth Court Judge Anne Covey participate in a Pennsylvania Supreme Court debate Wednesday. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    The judicial course and partisan makeup of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will be mightily affected by the election in less than three weeks of three new justices for the state’s highest court.

    If you’re confused about whom to vote for (and who isn’t), you can get a decent look at the seven contenders by watching the debate held Wednesday evening sponsored by Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts.

    The 90-minute forum is streamed on the Pennsylvania Cable Network site here.

    If you only have five minutes, listen to my radio piece above which will give you a taste of the hopefuls.

    My impressions?

    Nobody seemed dumb enough to be an embarrassment – something you can’t necessarily count on.

    All are judges – three on trial courts, four on appellate courts.

    All the candidates agreed the current court’s reputation is badly tarnished. But it struck me that while all insisted they are — and will be — jurists of integrity, most offered few ideas for institutional reform.

    An exception was David Wecht of Pittsburgh. He favors a ban on gifts to judges; a requirement that all recusal motions and decisions be public; and TV cameras in court.

    And Michael George from Adams County said judges should automatically recuse themselves from any case in which a campaign contributor is a party. None of the other candidates liked this idea, saying they know when they have a conflict and when to recuse.

    It seemed to me that the point wasn’t just whether they were personally wise and honest, but whether a rule for all judges wouldn’t ensure fairer justice and inspire more confidence in the courts.

    A few more facts

    Three of the seven candidates, Democrats Wecht and Christine Donohue plus Republican Judith Olson are highly recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association. Three others, Democrat Kevin Dougherty, Republican Michael George and independent Paul P. Panepinto are recommended. One, Republican Anne Covey, is not recommended by the bar (more on the bar ratings here).

    Democrats have raised three times as much money as the Republicans — the biggest donors are trial lawyers and unions. Two GOP candidates,  Covey and Olson, are endorsed by the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation. And yes, Dougherty is the brother of Philadelphia electricians union leader John Dougherty. He’s been very supportive.

    Another look

    You can see the candidates, or most of them, for yourself  Saturday in Philadelphia at a forum hosted by United Voices for Philadelphia at the Community College of Philadelphia from noon to 2 p.m.The event is in the Bonnell Building auditorium; the entrance is on 17th between Spring Garden and Callowhill.

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