Anne Covey (R)
Need to Know
Pa. Bar Association asked her to withdraw from this year’s election.
“I’m here to serve all of Pennsylvania. Sometimes people feel like they get slotted in one part of the state or another.”
Thinks the Supreme Court needs someone with “a greater understanding of local and state government” who wants to get “back to the basics of the Constitution.”
Wilmington native Anne Covey, 53, spent 25 years in private practice as a civil litigator specializing in employment and regulatory law, mostly in New Jersey.
In 2011, she was elected a judge of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, where she’s presided over several high-profile cases, including Corman vs. NCAA. After a long legal battle, the NCAA agreed to let the $60 million fine imposed on Penn State University in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal stay in the state to support child sex abuse issues instead of being spread around the country.
Citing a misleading campaign ad, the Pa. Bar Association has “Not Recommended” Covey. She is endorsed by the Republican Party of Pennsylvania as well as the Pro-Life Federation of Pennsylvania.
She is a graduate of the Widener University School of Law in Pennsylvania.
As of October 19th — the last filing before the election — Covey had raised $781,531.48, including in-kind contributions. Her cash on hand was $358,985.67.
Christine Donohue (D)
Need to Know
“Coal miner’s daughter” from the Lehigh Valley, Began career as a personal-injury lawyer and eventually became a Superior Court judge.
Quote: “Much of what we’ve seen as blowups in the system could have been handled differently if there was a better method of administering the court system that didn’t require justices to, essentially, fight with each other.”
“Highly recommended” rating from the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
Regarded as one of the state’s top litigators before being elected as a Superior Court judge, she was raised in a blue-collar home. There, she says, she learned the value of hard work and the “meaning of integrity,” and was the first in her family to go to college. As a lawyer, Donahue, 62, focused on personal injury and contract law, “protecting the rights of injured persons, holding corporations accountable for fraudulent behavior, eliminating bias against LGBT parents in custody matters and more.” She won the state bar association’s highest recommendation, and the endorsement of a long list of traditional Democratic constituencies including over a dozen major unions. Among her concerns is improving the accessibility of the court and what she calls its “vast” administrative functions, and she pledges to bring “transparency” to the court as well as “the insights … of a long time practitioner who actually brought cases to court.” Donahue was raised in the Lehigh Valley, the daughter of a union seamstress and a “coal cracker.” She now lives in Pittsburgh. In its endorsement of her, The Pittsburgh Gazette wrote: “She takes pride in the Superior Court holding sessions away from the major cities and we were impressed by her desire to bring the judges’ work closer to the people — something she’d like the Supreme Court to do.” She attended East Stroudsburg University and the Duquesne University School of Law.
As of October 19th — the last filing before the election — Donohue had raised $1,000,169.52, including in-kind contributions. Her cash on hand was $494,749.30.
Kevin Dougherty (D)
Need to Know
Has raised much more money than other candidates so far. Highly experienced, with deep financial ties to the political world and labor groups through his brother, union leader “Johnny Doc.”
Quote: “I love my brother. I have the great fortune in having him believe in me and what I stand for…. My brother has never influenced me on the bench or in any decisions I’ve made as a judge.”
Allies often describe him has “tough but effective” as an administrative judge in Philadelphia’s family, juvenile, and Common Pleas courts. Pa. Bar Association calls him “a strong administrator …. fair, open-minded, courteous.” The role of money and politics in Dougherty’s career concerns many judicial reform advocates, but Dougherty has never been personally implicated in any corruption or malfeasance.
Among the best-known and by far the best-funded candidate for Supreme Court, Kevin Dougherty, 53, brings a unique package of experience, interests, connections and concerns to the campaign.
Dougherty, the brother of Philadelphia labor leader John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, has extensive experience both adjudicating cases and managing courts, and speaks regularly as a specialist on juvenile justice policy, a focus since the beginning of his career.
He once said of his work in Family Court: “I see the anguish in children’s faces. I see the breaking of their hearts when their parents don’t want them. When I speak to a child that has never heard the words ‘I love you,’ it’s the incentive I need to verbalize my love for my kids and make sure I squeeze them and hug them that much extra.”
Dougherty spent almost ten years administering Philadelphia’s Family Court, and is the current administrator of the local district of the Court of Common Pleas, in charge of “120 judges, four main courthouses, approximately 2,000 employees and an annual budget of $106 million.”
In addition to some years in private practice, he has also served as an assistant district attorney and a truancy officer. As a Supreme Court justice, he hopes to help “bring closure to the wounds of (the court’s) reputation” and help it provide “good things for good families.”
“I want the black robe I wear to be viewed by those who come before me as a beacon of hope rather than a symbol of fear,” he has said.
He claims to be an “experienced, compassionate” candidate, and he’s been recommended by both the local and state bar associations, but the possible influence of his deep-pocketed supporters continues to raise the concerns of judicial reform advocates.
Lynn Marks, head of the reform-minded group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, calls him a “credible” candidate but adds, “It’s really hard to argue that people’s perception of such a system is not corroded when judges can accept huge amounts of money from groups and individuals who could very well come before them”
Dougherty remains firm that he’ll remain independent, telling the Philadelphia Inquirer that “my brother has never influenced me on the bench or in any decisions I’ve made, and telling the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he would recuse himself from any cases involving conflicts of interest with his brother.
“What separates me is that I come from a completely different world,” he said. “He’s in the world of labor. I’m in the world of law.”
In his candidate’s questionnaire, Dougherty stressed his independence, and noted that his professional resume remains long on substance and clear of black marks: “I am proud of my record of not having been reversed on appeal in numerous cases where I reconciled conflicting provisions of Pennsylvania’s family law … I am also proud of my reputation for judicial independence and propriety. I have never been criticized for a biased approach or been influenced by outside factors,” he wrote.
(To buttress that claim, his questionnaire details his personal legal history: in 2004, he was the defendant in a $662 small-claims case that settled “amicably”; in 2010 he was deposed as a witness in the bankruptcy proceedings that surrounding the construction of the new Family Court building; and through the years he’s been named in his official capacity in “numerous” civil proceedings challenging Family Court rulings.
(Otherwise, he writes, “I have not been a party to, or involved in, or had a pecuniary interest in, any civil or criminal proceeding. I have not been a party in interest or a material witness in any legal proceeding and have never been named as a co-conspirator or co-respondent. I have never appeared as a witness in, or been the subject of, any grand jury proceeding.”)
As of October 19th — the last filing before the election — Dougherty had raised $3,973,076.68, including in-kind contributions. His cash on hand was $650,594.84.
Michael George (R)
Need to Know
Extensive criminal law experience, filling what he called a “void” on the bench
Anti-abortion, but says his record shows he’s able to set aside personal opinions when deciding cases.
Says he brings geographic balance to the ticket. A court that serves all Pennsylvania citizens should have different insights from different parts of the state.
Michael George, 55, is serving a second 10-year term on the Adams County Court of Common Pleas, where he was first elected in 2001. He is the President Judge of the court. He began his law practice in Gettysburg in 1985 as an attorney, and served as Adams County District Attorney from 1996 to 2001.
George has served as chairperson of the Adams County Criminal Justice Advisory Board as well as the county’s Civil and Criminal Rules Committee. He is also a former committee member of the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges, where he was awarded the state’s Golden Crowbar award for work done to speed up the collection of restitution payments to victims of crimes.
George said he decided to run after a conversation with his son last year. His son, a law student, wondered who’s responsibility it was for the the poor ethics of the court system.
“I was a satisfied empty nester thinking about traveling with my wife,” said George. “There are very good people on the Supreme Court but that’s the perception we were dealing with. We were dropping the ball.”
He also stresses his criminal experience as an asset.
“I bring critical, front line experience. I know what it’s like to sentence someone to death and look them in the eye. The real life on the front lines isn’t as clean as it is in the legal libraries.”
George is “recommended” by the Pa. Bar Association, and has been endorsed by the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association.
As of October 19th — the last filing before the election — George had raised $805,934.02, including in-kind contributions. His cash on hand was $215,785.55.
Judith Ference Olson (R)
Need to Know
Decided to run only after concerned supporters approached her about the historic election. “This wasn’t something that I planned to do. I like my job.”
Thinks she can help restore faith in the state’s judicial system by being a judge with integrity and without an agenda – political or otherwise.
Broad experience. Started as a lawyer, then became a trial judge and an appellate judge.
“Judge Judy” grew up in Pittsburgh and still calls it home today. For the first 25 years of her career, she was a private practice lawyer; primarily handling cases connected to commercial litigation, though she also worked white-collar crime.
In 2008, Olson, 57, became a judge in the civil division of the Common Pleas Court of Allegheny County. The following year, she ran for and won a spot on the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. Over the last five years, she has ruled on “all types of issues,” from child custody to Constitutional law. “Every case has prepared me well for the Supreme Court.”
Olson is “Highly Recommended” by the Pa. Bar Association, and has the endorsement of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation.
She is a graduate of the Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh.
As of October 19th — the last filing before the election — Olson had raised $498,168.29, including in-kind contributions. Her cash on hand was $257,510.99.
Paul Panepinto (I)
Need to Know
First independent candidate to run for state Supreme Court since 1993
“You don’t take an oath of office to the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. Technically, you shouldn’t have a label. The label is partisan.”
Ran as a Republican for a seat on the state Supreme Court in 2007 and 2009
Philadelphia native Paul Panepinto, 66, spent 15 years in private practice in the city and New Jersey before becoming an award-winning judge. In 1991, he was elected to the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia. He is currently a team leader with the court’s Civil Trial Section, Statutory Appeals Program and Motions Court. Over his long career, Panepinto has handled civil, criminal and family court cases; a breadth of experience he says will prove useful if elected to rule over appeals. He became a registered independent in March. Panepinto is “recommended” by the Pa. Bar Association. He’s a graduate of Widener University School of Law in Pennsylvania.
As of October 19th — the last filing before the election — Panepinto had raised $225,050.91, including in-kind contributions. His cash on hand was $153,787.41.
David Wecht (D)
Need to Know
Running on an ethics and transparency plan:
* no more gifts for judges
* end nepotism
* television broadcast of court proceedings
* require judges to rule on the record or in writing on all motions for recusal
Wants to cut out the political component of the court. “We need to elect justices who are not running to be judicial politicians, but judicial thinkers and judicial writers.”
Thinks Supreme Court justices should only be in the business of deciding cases and not courthouse bureaucracy, including hiring and firing decisions and facility plans.
Before becoming a judge, Baltimore native David Wecht, 52, was a civil and criminal lawyer in D.C. and Pittsburgh doing “all manner of litigation.”
For nearly a decade, Wecht sat on the Common Pleas Court of Allegheny County, spending several years as the Administrative Judge of the Family Division.
In 2011, he was elected to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.
Wecht is “Highly Recommended” by the Pa. Bar Association and is endorsed by the Pennsylvania Democrats, the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO and the Fraternal Order of Police.
He is a graduate of Yale Law School.
As of October 19th — the last filing before the election — Wecht had raised $2,927,431.31, including in-kind contributions. His cash on hand was $796,133.96.
Committee of Seventy contributed to this guide.