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The Pennsylvania Bar Association released its final round of ratings yesterday for state appellate court candidates, including a “not recommended” rating for Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Willis W. Berry. Berry, a Democrat, said he will run for the Supreme Court regardless of his unfavorable assessment by the commission and plans to lobby the Democratic State Committee for an endorsement. Also rated as candidates for state Superior Court by the PBA’s Judicial Evaluation Commission were Allegheny County attorney Christine L. Donohue, who received a “highly recommended” rating; Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge James Murray Lynn, who received a slightly lower “recommended” rating; and Westmoreland County attorney Timothy J. McCormick, who also received a “recommended” rating. The ratings came on the eve of both Democratic and Republican state committee meetings where delegates are expected to vote to issue endorsements for both Supreme and Superior court races. In the Supreme Court, two seats held by former justices Russell Nigro and Sandra Schultz Newman will be filled this November. In the Superior Court, Judge Joseph A. Hudock will attain senior status, and Judge Joseph A. Del Sole resigned last September, leaving two seats up for grabs. Berry said he’s very disappointed in the “not recommended” rating, but not surprised because he entered the race only two weeks before meeting with the commission. “I’m qualified. I’ve been on this bench for 11 years. I was an attorney for 20 years. I know the law. I know the issues and I think they need some diversity on the bench,” said Berry, who is black. “It seems like everyone else on that bench came from a different direction than I came from. Maybe another side of the tracks.” Berry, a west Philadelphia native, said he attended Temple University Law School, almost by accident after a stint in the U.S. Air Force and graduating from Penn State. “A friend got in trouble, it was a murder case,” Berry said. “He called me in the middle of the night and I didn’t know what to tell him.” Berry went to Temple’s campus to investigate the possibility of taking law classes on an ad hoc basis and wound up applying through the law school’s special admissions program. He graduated and ran a criminal defense practice in north Philadelphia until he was elected to the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court in 1995. He was retained in 2005 for a second 10-year term. The commission recognized Berry’s extensive criminal division experience, but it concluded that his lack of experience outside the area of criminal law, his lack of administrative experience and his lack of demonstrated community service make him a poor candidate. “Further, he has not participated in bar-related functions, teaching, writing or his court’s efforts to improve the justice system,” the commission’s statement says. The JEC released two rounds of state appellate court candidate ratings this week. In addition to Berry’s Supreme Court rating on Thursday, the commission issued ratings for three Superior Court candidates: Donohue, rated “highly recommended,” has been practicing law for 26 years and is currently with Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney in Pittsburgh. She joined Klett Rooney Lieber & Schorling in 1989 and stayed with the result of the firm’s merger with Buchanan Ingersoll. Prior to that, she was a partner at Evans Rosen Portnoy & Quinn in Pittsburgh. “Between my two law firms, I’ve touched just about every type of civil litigation that you can imagine,” she said. The commission also noted her knowledge of the Superior Court and her service in a quasi-judicial role on the Disciplinary Board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Among Donohue’s community service endeavors, the commission noted her six years on the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners, including two as chairwoman. Lynn, rated “recommended,” said he’s delighted the state bar association recommended his candidacy “for the 12.5 million people of Pennsylvania for a seat on the Superior Court.” Lynn has served as a judge in Philadelphia since 1992. Prior to his service on the bench, he practiced law in Philadelphia for 28 years, including three years as an assistant district attorney. The commission noted his experience in “handling a wide variety of civil cases including mass tort cases as well as family law and criminal cases.” It also noted his reputation for “his calm and courteous attitude toward litigants appearing before him and their counsel.” McCormick, rated “recommended,” has been practicing law since 1979 and has experience in criminal and civil matters, “preparing him to handle the full spectrum of cases that come before the Superior Court.” McCormick said he thought the commission carried out a very fair and open process and is satisfied with the result. “His peers consider him to be compassionate, courteous, patient, professional and committed to justice and fairness,” the commission wrote. The JEC has also highly recommended the following as candidates for Supreme Court: Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas President Judge C. Darnell Jones II, a Democrat; Superior Court Judge Maureen Lally-Green, a Republican; Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Paul P. Panepinto, a Republican; and Superior Court Judge Debra Todd, a Democrat. Recommended were Environmental Hearing Board Judge Michael L. Krancer, a Republican; Superior Court Judge Seamus McCaffery; and Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge John M. Younge. Highly recommended for Superior Court candidacy are Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Cheryl L. Allen, a Republican; Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Ronald W. Folino, a Democrat; and Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Anne E Lazarus, a Democrat. Recommended as Superior Court candidates are Dauphin County Common Pleas Judge Bruce E. Bratton, a Republican; former Schuylkill County district attorney Claude A. Lord Shields, a Democrat; Westmoreland County attorney Jaqueline O. Shohan, a Democrat; and Allegheny County attorney Templeton W. Smith Jr., a Democrat. Delaware County Magisterial District Judge Richard M. Cappelli, a Republican, was not recommended.

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