The Pennsylvania legislature has passed a bill that would get rid of a requirement that magisterial district judges collect signatures when they run for reelection.
The judges handle cases on the lowest level of Pennsylvania’s judicial system; they set bail and preside over low-level civil and criminal matters. And many say they’ve run into hostility while collecting signatures.
The measure to get rid of the signature requirement started in the Senate, where it passed unanimously. It faced some disapproval in the House though.
Debate stretched over two days.
Supporters, like Montgomery County Democrat Steve McCarter, argued district judges tend to make more personal enemies than other officials.
“Nearly 37 percent of district court judges in the commonwealth have reported being on the receiving end of hostile, frightening behavior,” he said, citing a study commissioned by the Special Court Judges Association of Pennsylvania.
McCarter added, “Anyone can get those signatures … The responsibility of everyone in this room, though, is to keep our magisterial district judges safe.”
But a number of opponents said they don’t buy that.
“District magistrates are no more in danger when collecting signatures than any one of us,” Delaware County Democrat Margo Davidson said.
She and others argued that judges should have the same signature requirements as lawmakers, and said the bill gives incumbent judges an unfair advantage over challengers.
The bill ultimately passed by a wide margin, 128 to 65, with virtually no partisan divide.
It now goes to Governor Tom Wolf for final approval. Wolf hasn’t yet said what he plans to do.