Fundraising and expenditure numbers are in for the 2013 Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas elections, and according to the campaign finance filings, spending for the race has been all over the map.
Six candidates are vying to fill four open seats on the bench, and six sitting judges are seeking retention in this year’s race. While each of the judges seeking retention has raised and spent only $1,000, all of which went to the Allegheny County Bar Association’s judicial excellence committee, the incumbents have spent anywhere from around $550,000 to little more than $60,000.
According to the latest reports, the most free-spending campaign is that of Democrat Jennifer Satler, a former Allegheny County assistant public defender, who spent a total of $549,385. While much of the money came from Satler herself, with reports showing that she spent $198,520 on the campaign in May and October, she said the spending was necessary to get her message out to the voters.
Satler said that, if elected, she wants to increase the efficiency of the courts.
“I want to provide a fair administration of justice for all individuals involved in our court system,” she said. “It’s important to remember that any appearance in court is probably going to be one of the most stressful moments in the lives of the litigants. You have to take that seriously.”
Satler has been in private practice and teaches courses at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Although she was appointed to serve as a special arbitrator at the common pleas court in 2012, Satler is the only candidate who was rated as “not recommended at this time” by the ACBA.
The campaign of Mark V. Tranquilli and his election committee spent the second largest amount in the race, according to records, with a combined total of $465,273. Filings indicated that Tranquilli, who has headed the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office’s Homicide Unit since 2005 and worked as a prosecutor for 20 years, has spent $190,000 of his own money. Tranquilli won both the Republican and Democratic ticket in the primaries, and was highly recommended by the ACBA.
Between an individual campaign and an election committee, Philip J. Murray III spent a total of $463,566, available records indicate. The filing show the committee spent $310,963 in total, and Murray’s campaign spent $135,705 from January to May and $15,865 from June to September, indicating that the biggest fundraising push came before the primaries.
Murray, a Republican, was recommended by the ACBA. He is a partner with the Pittsburgh office of Dinsmore & Shohl, and said the focus of his candidacy is integrity, respect for litigants and attorneys, and knowledge of the law.
Murray said fundraising was a challenge. He declined to speculate on why it was a particularly difficult election season, but said he also felt that the turnout will be relatively low.
The filings show that the majority of his fundraising occurred in the primary cycle, Paul E. Cozza and his election committee spent a total of $365,525, according to filings. Cozza currently serves on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Family Division. He was appointed to the court in 2011. Cozza also won both the Republican and Democratic ticket in the primaries.
William F. Ward, who also currently sits on the Family Division bench, and the committee to keep him on the bench spent $107,014, according to records. The Republican candidate was appointed to the court in June 2012, and was highly recommended by the ACBA.
The least expensive campaign this season was that of Eleanor Bush. Through a committee and an individual campaign, she spent $63,085. Bush was highly recommended by the ACBA, and currently works at the Pennsylvania Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network in the legal training division.
Bush said that, although she was not directly involved with the fundraising, she was grateful that her campaign was able to raise the necessary funds. She said she hopes her targeted message will reach motivated voters.
“I’ve been a lawyer for about 25 years, and that entire time, my work has been dedicated to public service and advocacy for children and families,” she said. “My focus has been to communicate my qualifications and my record of working with children and families to the voters.”
Bush is vying for a position on the Family Division.
Ken Gormley, dean of Duquesne University School of Law, said there has been little controversy in this judicial election, and he supported all the candidates up for retention. With no gubernatorial elections, no big controversies and no major ballot questions, Gormley said he expected turnout to be low.
“There’s a level of general disgust in government aimed at officials in Washington that is apt to translate to even more voter apathy than usual,” he said. “This is going to be an election where a lot of people decide to stay home and rake the leaves.”