Court Endorsements Go as Predicted
For State High Court Race
The Legal Intelligencer
February 13, 2007
Despite some last-minute drama Friday, this year's Democratic and Republican judicial candidate endorsements shaped up by and large as expected.
But with two Philadelphia judges vowing to stay in the race, the outcome in this spring's primary is still up in the air.
With respect to the races for the two open seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the most interesting developments came last week, and from the Democratic side.
On Friday, Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman T.J. Rooney said that he and the governor were so intent on having Philadelphia Common Pleas President Judge C. Darnell Jones II included on the party's state Supreme Court ticket that if it seemed likely the weekend's statewide caucus wouldn't endorse him, the pair would push for an unendorsed judicial primary.
As many had anticipated, it became clear early on in the weekend that a majority of the party's state committee members favored endorsing two candidates who have already been successful in statewide elections, according to sources who attended this weekend's state Democratic caucus in Camp Hill.
Since last month, word on the street had been that most state committee members wanted Pittsburgh-based Superior Court Judge Debra M. Todd as the party's western Pennsylvania candidate and her colleague, Superior Court Judge Seamus P. McCaffery of Philadelphia, as the southeastern balance to the ticket.
Rooney told The Legal yesterday that on Saturday, he conveyed to the committee's members his and Gov. Edward G. Rendell's hope that the party would not pass up the opportunity to endorse Jones and help pave the way for the election of the second African-American justice in the history of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
But many committee members seemed set on McCaffery, and there didn't appear to be much support this year for an unendorsed ticket, Rooney said. In the end, McCaffery received 246 committee member votes; Todd, 243; and Jones, 119, according to party support staff.
"The members [of the committee] were familiar with Judge McCaffery, and he's never lost touch with them," Rooney said.
Rooney said his and Rendell's dreams for the primary weren't about one man, but rather were "about a very compelling circumstance, and a message that was delivered to the governor and I from the African-American community."
Rooney said that, because he represents the party, he'll respect the committee's decision.
The big question is how much support Jones can expect from Rendell now that the committee has effectively disagreed with Rendell's wishes.
"Is he now going to go against the party? I don't know," McCaffery said of Rendell in an interview yesterday.
When reached for comment, Kate Philips, the governor's spokeswoman, would say only that the governor has not endorsed any of this year's state Supreme Court candidates.
Jones said yesterday that this weekend's endorsement results won't change how he runs his race between now and the primary.
"For several years, my opponents have been laying the groundwork for the state committee people to make that vote this weekend," Jones said.
He noted that his campaigning has basically consisted of two recent speeches to local party caucuses in the Philadelphia area and in western Pennsylvania.
"To get 119 votes in 10 minutes, compared to what [my opponents] have been doing for three years? You bet we're excited about this," Jones said of this weekend's tally.
Jones said the current situation reminds him of what happened 20 years ago, when then-Gov. Robert P. Casey went against the Democratic Party's endorsement and appointed Jones to a vacant common pleas seat. Jones said Casey's continued support ultimately helped him get officially elected soon thereafter.
"I know it's going to be a similar outcome," Jones said of this year's state Supreme Court race.
One county party chairman whose members largely voted for McCaffery and Todd said he believes most members of the caucus were thinking of November and which candidates would be most likely to prevail in a statewide race against Republican judicial candidates.
"I think part of the issue that we were looking at was, Judge McCaffery's been at this a long time, and people still remember him from when he ran for Superior Court," said Marcel Groen, the Fox Rothschild partner who heads the Montgomery County Democratic Committee.
"They all felt that the race is November, and that we need to put out the strongest ticket," McCaffery said of the party leaders who voted during this weekend's caucus.
Todd said yesterday that most of the caucus's attention this weekend was focused on Jones and McCaffery.
"I'm honored to have their backing again," she said of the state committee. "It means a lot to me."
Jones said he plans to remind voters of two things as he tours the state in the coming weeks.
First, that he was deemed "highly recommended" as a justice candidate by the Pennsylvania Bar Association's Judicial Evaluation Commission. Todd got the same rating, while McCaffery was listed as simply "recommended" by the PBA commission.
And second, that there's only been one African-American voted to the state's highest bench in its nearly three-century history.
"Those two things resound in every area in Pennsylvania," Jones said.
In other endorsement news, the Democrats chose Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge John M. Younge as their Superior Court candidate.
Younge had previously thrown his hat in the Supreme Court ring, but late last week confirmed to The Legal that he would accept a Superior Court endorsement.
"If you're a public servant, you serve where you're asked to serve," Younge said.
Party insiders said it was important to have Younge on the ticket, since between him, McCaffery and Todd, the Democrats' slate is diverse geographically, racially and gender-wise.
"I really hope that Gov. Rendell will see that as just the kind of ticket that the Democrats need to put forward," McCaffery said.
But Rooney had told The Legal on Friday that he and Rendell believed it was important to have as much diversity as possible at the top of the Democrats' judicial ticket, and that an endorsement for one African-American candidate at the Superior Court level wouldn't live up to that ideal.
"We believe very strongly that we have two highly recommended candidates," Rooney had said Friday. "One [Todd] happens to be a woman from the west, and one [Jones] happens to be an African-American from the east - I think that would be a tremendous statewide ticket, and so does the governor."
Like McCaffery, Younge had been rated "recommended" for election to the Supreme Court by the PBA's commission.
Interestingly enough, the Republican side played out in a similar fashion, with the endorsements going to the candidates expected to win them and a Philadelphia judge left out of the mix vowing to stay in the race.
And as with the Democrats, another southeastern Pennsylvania-based state Supreme Court candidate deemed simply "recommended" by the PBA was endorsed in favor of a local rival who had been rated "highly recommended."
Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Paul P. Panepinto, who supervises the city's renowned Complex Litigation Center, had received the PBA's highest judicial candidate rating but came up short at his party's caucus.
"I am still in the race, and I will stay in the race," Panepinto said in an interview yesterday.
Republican State Committee delegates voted overwhelmingly to endorse two justice candidates who lead in early polls, Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board Chief Judge Michael L. Krancer, a Montgomery County native, and Superior Court Judge Maureen Lally-Green, who hails from Pittsburgh.
Lally-Green, who was deemed "highly recommended" by the PBA commission, said she feels "most privileged to receive the confidence of my own party."
"I'm deeply indebted to all the good people who gave me their help," Lally-Green said.
Krancer, who was found to be "recommended" by the PBA, called his party's endorsement "a culmination of a lot of work and grass roots effort on my part."
The former Blank Rome partner said he believes that what some may view as his comparative lack of judicial experience might actually help him score points with certain sectors of the electorate.
Krancer describes himself as "part insider and part outsider."
"People ask me all the time about the pay raise," Krancer said, chuckling. "My court didn't get the pay raise."