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With one vacancy already on the Eastern District of Pennsylvania federal bench and three more expected before the year ends, sources say there are two shoo-in candidates set to fill the posts and a slew of potential candidates who have a shot at the other two seats. In interviews last week with numerous sources familiar with the nomination process, nearly all said they expect to see nominations of attorney Paul S. Diamond of Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel in Philadelphia and Judge Lawrence F. Stengel of the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas. But beyond those two, there appears to be little consensus among the cognoscenti on the issue of who has the best chance at securing one of the two remaining Eastern District slots. The leading potential candidates mentioned by sources were, U.S. Magistrate Judge Diane M. Welsh, Berks County District Attorney Mark C. Baldwin, attorney Gene E.K. Pratter of Duane Morris, Chester County Common Pleas Judge Juan Sanchez, and CIGNA general counsel Stephanie Middleton. Also mentioned by some sources were Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys Joel Slomsky and Felipe Restrepo. But sources also said that one of the four vacancies may be reserved for a Democrat and that Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Allan L. Tereshko is the most likely candidate for that seat. Other sources said Tereshko’s strongest competition is coming from one of his own colleagues, Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge John W. Herron. One source said Herron’s chances are slim because “he doesn’t have a political sponsor.” The Eastern District bench was enjoying a rare period with no unfilled judgeships until the death last month of Judge Jay C. Waldman created a vacancy. But even before Waldman’s death, the process for choosing new judges for Philadelphia’s federal bench was well underway due to the announcement from three of the court’s judges that they will be taking senior status later this year. Judge Herbert J. Hutton will take senior status in September, Judge William H. Yohn Jr. will follow in November, and Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter will create a fourth vacancy on the Eastern District when he goes senior in December. A fifth Eastern District vacancy could occur if Judge Franklin S. Van Antwerpen is nominated and confirmed to a fill a vacancy on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Sources familiar with the nomination process said the key factors to consider are politics and geography. The most important player and decision-maker in all Eastern District nominations is Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania’s senior senator who is facing a re-election campaign next year with Republican Rep. Pat Toomey as a potential challenger in the primary. Many sources said they expect Specter to present the nominations in a package that reflects diversity in several respects – racial, geographic and gender. Since the two most likely nominees – Diamond and Stengel – are both white men, some sources said they expect that at least one of the remaining two seats will be filled by a woman or a minority candidate. Some sources said they expect Specter to continue his practice of proposing three nominees from the party currently in the White House and a fourth from the other party. During the Clinton administration, that practice resulted in one Republican nominee for every three Democrats. Nowadays, one in every four vacancies is reserved for a Democrat. But one source said Specter may propose four Republicans in his next package because the most recent package included two Democrats – Legrome D. Davis and Timothy J. Savage. Geography will also play a major role in the process, some sources said, due to a traditional practice of replacing judges with nominees from the same county. Stengel is a very likely nominee, those sources said, because he comes from the same county as Buckwalter and would take his seat. By that logic, the vacancy Yohn creates would likely go to a Montgomery County nominee. So far, sources said, the leading candidate to fill that seat is Welsh. But other sources said the Montgomery County seat is possibly up for grabs and could go to either Chester County’s Sanchez or Berks County’s Baldwin. Two of the vacancies – the Waldman seat and the Hutton seat – might be expected to go to Philadelphia candidates. Many sources said Diamond was a “lock” for one of those seats, but that the second may go to a non-Philadelphian. “It’s very fluid right now,” one source said. Another source concurred, saying, “I don’t think any decisions have been made beyond Diamond and Stengel. But we still have a few months to go.”

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