This story originally appeared on Spotlight PA.
Voters this Election Day in Pennsylvania will be asked to consider judicial retentions, including if they want to keep Judge Victor Stabile on the bench of the commonwealth’s Superior Court.
After a judge is elected to one of Pennsylvania’s statewide courts, they get a ten-year term and must then go up for retention.
The question of whether to retain a judge is generally a low-profile one, and information about these judges’ records can be hard to find. But it is a process with significant, long-lasting implications. That yes-or-no vote either kicks judges off the bench, or keeps them there for another decade.
These judges have considerable power. The 15-member Superior Court is the first stop for appeals on most criminal and civil cases in the commonwealth, and its precedents impact anyone who interacts with the criminal justice system.
So ahead of 2023 Election Day on Nov. 7, here’s the rundown on Stabile, who is one of two statewide judges up for retention this year.
Who is Victor Stabile?
Stabile, a Republican, began his pre-bench career as a commonwealth court clerk and then a deputy attorney general in the 1980s. He was a partner at the large firm Dilworth Paxson, spent more than a decade as a Middlesex Township supervisor, and chaired the Cumberland County GOP.
He first ran for Superior Court in 2011, losing that first bid but prevailing two years later.
In its recommendation of him, the bar association wrote that he “is highly regarded by his peers and is described by lawyers and judges alike as having a positive judicial temperament and broad legal knowledge.”
In his time on the bench, Stabile co-authored a benchbook — writing that aims to help other judges navigate complex legal issues — on restitution. He noted in a Q&A with the bar association that it was one of many examples of his work lecturing and otherwise offering legal education to members of the bar in Pennsylvania.
In some of his recent high-profile decisions, Stabile reinstated charges against an engineer in a deadly Amtrak crash on procedural grounds; dissented in a decision that found Uber had not met the legal bar for requiring users to waive jury trials (again on procedural grounds); and wrote an opinion upholding a misdemeanor child endangerment conviction for former Penn State President Graham Spanier in relation to Jerry Sandusky’s child abuse.
More on judicial retention
Pennsylvania is one of 11 states that uses retention elections to confirm a new judicial term, and these races normally attract little media attention. Voters almost always approve subsequent terms for appellate judges by double-digit margins.
Since 1968, when the state’s constitution was last updated, voters have rejected only one appellate judge’s reelection bid.
That was in 2005, when voters were broadly frustrated with state lawmakers’ vote to increase their own salaries and those of judges. Former state Supreme Court Justice Russell Nigro was up for reelection that year, and while he had nothing to do with the pay hike, he lost his bid for retention amid a widespread culling of incumbents.
If a judge loses their retention race, a special election is held to replace them in the next odd year. The governor can appoint a replacement in the interim, but two-thirds of the state Senate must approve the choice.
While there are only two statewide retention elections on the ballot this year, voters may have to weigh in on others for Common Pleas judges depending on where they live.
Courts of Common Pleas are the main trial courts in the commonwealth, and are the first step in most criminal and civil cases. You can see if a judge in your county is up for retention here.
Even more consequential retention votes will be coming up in 2025, when three state Supreme Court justices elected as Democrats will be on the ballot and the balance of the court could flip.
Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan, and nonprofit newsroom producing investigative and public-service journalism that holds the powerful to account and drives positive change in Pennsylvania.
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