Questions about you and the role of a judge:
1. What makes a good judge?
A good judge possesses the following: understanding and respect for the law, a dedication to impartiality and fairness, experience, integrity, and a commitment to public service. Understanding and respect for the law, experience and decision-making can come from a variety of professional avenues, including law practice, the academic world or judicial experiences. A person with integrity is dedicated to, and is known for, fair and impartial decision-making. A person who is committed to public service is one who performs judicial duties as the Constitution and the law require and in a way that the public is treated with dignity and respect.
2. What is the biggest trap or mistake a judge can make?
One trap or mistake that a judge can make is to forget that the judge is elected to perform very important duties in our society and that what a judge does and the way the judge treats people can seriously impact the confidence the public has in the judiciary.
3. How would you describe your judicial philosophy?
An appellate judge has a limited role under the Constitution and is to make decisions as a function of the Constitution, relevant law, established precedent, the record, applicable rules, and the scope and standard of review for the particular issue before the court.
4. Which opinion do you think represents your best work?
With each case, the Judge tries to do her best work. One opinion is eToll v. Elias/Savion, Inc., 811 A.2d 10 (Pa. Super. 2002).
5. If you could, which opinion would you take back or revise? Why?
With each case, there is a study of the language of the applicable Constitutional provisions, laws, established precedent, applicable rules, the record and the applicable scope and standard of review for the particular issue before the court. Then, the Judge does her best with that case. In this regard, she is not aware of any of her opinions that she would revise.
6. What in your background has prepared you best for being a judge?
The following in her background prepares her for service as a Justice of the Supreme Court.
a. Judicial experience as a Judge of the Superior Court since June 1998:
1998-present Superior Court of Pennsylvania, Judge. (Appointed by Governor Tom Ridge in 1998 and confirmed by the State Senate (6/1998). Elected to a 10 year term beginning 1/2000.
b. Part-time Research Associate/ Consultant experience regarding judicial matters with two Justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for over ten years during the 1980s and 1990s:
Appeals Research Associate, Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Justice Nicholas P. Papadakos and Justice John P. Flaherty. (Work involved allocatur petitions.) Consultant, Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Justice and then Chief Justice John P. Flaherty. (Work involved drafting of proposed opinions.)
c. Experience with the administrative work of the Supreme Court as a Supreme Court appointed member of: the Intergovernmental Commission on Race, Gender and Ethnic Fairness (Secretary and Commission Member appointed by the Supreme Court since its inception); the Judicial Council’s Gender Implementation Subcommittee (Chair); the Appellate Procedural Rules Committee; the Criminal Procedural Rules Committee; and a Disciplinary Hearing Committee of the Disciplinary Board.
d. Teaching/academic experience. Since 1983, she has served either as a part-time or a full time law professor at Duquesne University School of Law. Her experiences in the law school classroom gives her a unique appreciation of legal theory and a familiarity of issues relating to the civil, criminal, labor and employment areas of law:
9/83-present Duquesne University School of Law,
-Adjunct Professor of Law (9/1983-7/1986)
-Visiting Professor of Law (7/1986-7/1987)
-Assistant Professor of Law (7/1987-7/1989)
-Associate Professor of Law (7/1989-5/1992)
-Professor of Law (5/1992-1/2000 and on leave 6/1998-12/1999)
-Adjunct Professor of Law (1/2000-present)
Courses taught over the years include: Federal Employment Discrimination (1983-1998; 2000-present)(co-teaching currently); Legal Research and Writing (1983-1994); Professional Responsibility (1986); Federal Environmental Law (one summer); Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure (1987-1998); Federal Labor Law (1994, 1996-2001, except 1999); Federal Labor Law and Employment Discrimination Seminar (Spring 1995);Appellate Practice and Procedure (2002-present)(co-teaching currently). In addition, she has authored a number of law review articles.
e. Diverse employment background in both litigation and non-litigation arenas; 9/74-3/75 Attorney, private law practice with a law firm that dissolved in 1975, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Work was in the corporate and estate planning areas.) 5/75-7/75 Instructor, Robert Morris College, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (now Robert Morris University) in Business Law. (Work was teaching a business law course.) 8/75-1/78 Counsel, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Divisions of Trading and Markets and of Enforcement.
(Work, among other things, included: participating in an investigation which resulted in the reorganization of a Chicago commodity futures exchange; working on commodity futures exchange rule enforcement reviews; and litigating cases.)
2/78-9/83 Counsel. Major Litigation Section and Corporate Law Section, Law Department, Westinghouse Electric Corporation.
(Work, among other things, included: counseling executives of, and managing litigation for, various divisions involving the transportation and other industrial segments; assisting in the defense of a major securities case; participating in the defense of counterclaims in Westinghouse’s uranium antitrust litigation and of other related litigation matters, including governmental investigations of potential violations of securities and foreign corrupt practices laws; and presenting on product liability law for various corporate personnel.)
1986-5/98 Lawyer, solo practice; Chair, Cranberry Township Zoning Hearing Board Member
(Work was in business and estate planning for a very limited client base. She also served as Chair of the Zoning Hearing Board for 12 years)
f. Her experience living in the Commonwealth as a Wife, Mother, Daughter, Friend, and Citizen.
7. How would your personal views and experiences influence you as a justice?
While Justices are elected, they are not expected, as are legislators and a governor, to reflect a certain view or experience of the voters. Rather, Justices are elected to perform duties under the law and the Constitution. The Judge’s personal views have not, and do not, influence or control the outcome of any case.
8. What separates you from the other candidates and why would you be a better addition to the Supreme Court?
The Judge hopes to serve the Supreme Court and the public in three ways. First, her legal, academic and judicial experiences provide her with a wide range of legal skills and knowledge, and an ability to engage in legal analysis. Second, her approach to decision-making is one of a study of the law and applicable precedent, a review of the record, attention to applicable rules, disciplined reasoning and fair and impartial decision making. Third, her community service experiences reflect her solid commitment to public service, her dedication to impartiality and fairness, and her appreciation of the great privilege it is to serve the public. The combination of these three facets, it is suggested, separates her and makes her such an addition.
9. If elected, what would be your biggest priority on the court?
A very important priority would be to work on improving the public’s confidence in the judiciary. The public’s confidence increases when the public appreciates that: (1) decision-making is done in a fair and impartial manner; and (2) administrative duties are performed in a transparent and accountable manner and in the context of what the Pennsylvania Constitution requires.
Public confidence is enhanced when the public understands the role of the Judiciary and its processes, when there are policies and procedures in place that assure fair and impartial decision-making and treatment in the Courts, and when the Judiciary addresses problems in a way that makes the Courts more accessible and assures the dignity of those who uses the Courts. She would use her best efforts to address issues relating to these matters.
Questions about the law and legal practice:
10. Is there any area of the law that you think needs a closer look or guidance from the Supreme Court?
While not an area of the law, a closer look might be appropriate at the process by which the Supreme Court issues some of its decisions that may not serve as precedent.
11. When deciding a case, how do you frame the issue and conduct your analysis to reach a conclusion?
The issue is framed and analyzed in light of the Constitution, the law, established precedent, applicable rules and procedures, the facts and record in the case, and in accordance with the scope and standard of review for the particular issue before the court.
12. Do you think there is a dilemma in how Rule 1925(b) is applied? And if so, what needs to be done to fix it?
As a Judge and an appointed member of the Supreme Court’s Appellate Rules Committee, she is aware that 1925(b) is applied in a way that waiver occurs. The Committee has authored a suggested revision of 1925 and has sought public comment.
13. Is the court threatening to make the practice of law too burdensome for solo and small-firm practitioners by increasing requirements for CLE, maintaining certain types of bank accounts, moving toward effective requirements for malpractice insurance, etc.?
14. Conversely, are clients adequately protected by the aforementioned requirements?
Regarding both questions 13 and 14, many of the Supreme Court’s proposals are designed to protect the public (and thus clients). It is wise to seek the input of those who are most affected by these requirements before imposing them as requirements. In that way, strategies could be explored to reduce real burdens and, also, to protect clients and the public.
15. What is the greatest threat to the practice of law or problem the profession faces?
The greatest threat is the loss of professionalism, particularly the value of one’s word being one’s promise. The practice of law has become, in many respects, a business. Lawyers are, however, bound by a code of ethics and have responsibilities toward the profession, the courts and the public. Professionalism, it is suggested, should be a highly valued attribute of a lawyer.
16. How important is consensus – particularly unanimous consensus – in high court opinions and are there limits when a justice should only concur, or should they do it any time they feel like it?
While consensus, including unanimous consensus, is important to high court opinions because the law can then be clearly stated and understood, a concurrence allows the public to understand the other views that lead to a decision. The public elects its justices to serve and such service would include the issuance of both unanimous and concurring opinions that educate and explain. This method of decision-making is regarded often as a positive and distinguishing characteristic of American jurisprudence.
17. How important is stare decisis and when should a court depart from it?
Stare decisis is important because it provides predictability and stability to the law through case precedent, a distinguishing characteristic of American jurisprudence. A court could depart from precedent when, for example, the reasons for the precedent no longer exist or where a statute is passed that negates the precedent.
Openness of the courts:
18. Does the court need to improve efforts to make the courts and what they do more open and accessible to the press and public?
Whether courts are open and accessible to the press and the public is a function of a number of factors. Factors to be weighed include the requirements of the U.S. and Pennsylvania Constitutions, relevant case law, and statutes. The rights and needs of the press and the public and individual litigants are critical considerations.
19. Do you favor cameras in the courtroom, particularly for oral arguments before the Supreme Court?
The Superior Court uses PCN to telecast en banc panels as a public educational service. It appears to serve that purpose. While spotlights and flashing light bulbs could impede the work of the Court, the educational value of public access through unintrusive means and with due regard to the rights of all involved are important considerations.
20. Once litigants have chosen to enter the arena of the public courts, should confidential settlements be discouraged? Or should they be encouraged as a way for the system to reach swifter resolutions?
Litigation is a difficult, time-intensive and expensive process for all involved and swifter resolution of cases is a good goal when it serves the needs of those involved. Where the matter is between private parties, a confidential settlement is sometimes an appropriate way of resolving the dispute. There are times, however, where a court is to approve a settlement and, then, whether the matter remains confidential is a function of the applicable law, regulations, precedent and the circumstances of the case.
21. Under what circumstances should judges seal the records in a case? In general, should the practice of sealing records be encouraged for discouraged?
There are times when, at the parties’ request, courts appropriately seal records to protect the rights of the parties involved. The decision to seal is a function of the applicable law and the circumstances of the case.
22. Should the court make more of its dealings – including meetings with other elected officials and reasons for recusal – open to the public?
The court does conduct many of its meetings with elected official in a forum open to the public. The public’s main expectation of its judges is to perform a public service of fair and impartial decision making.
If a judge recuses, a judge is doing so because recusal serves the needs of the litigants and may be in the best interests of the public.
Politics and public perceptions:
23. What should be the nature of the relationship between the court and the members of the other branches of government and how should the justices, particularly the chief justice, interact with them?
A unique aspect of the American system of government is that there are three co-equal branches of government, each with checks and balances on the other two. The legislature makes the laws, the executive enforces the laws and the judiciary interprets the laws and the Constitution. The legislature also controls the budget for the other branches.
When citizens may not be able to obtain relief from the legislature or the executive branches, citizens may be able to turn to the courts to resolve disputes or to vindicate their rights. The public generally has confidence in the courts when decisions are rendered in a fair and impartial manner, based on the facts before the court, when the public is treated with dignity and respect and when the system operates in conformity with the Constitution. Thus, the courts can be the one place where citizens who are not heard by the legislature or the executive branch can go to be heard.
The Chief Justice, or his /her designee, is the representative of the third branch of government. The nature of the relationship among the courts and the members of the executive branch or the legislature is one defined by the Constitution, with attributes of openness, respect and accountability.
24. The pay raise decision: who do you think got it right, Justice Castille or Justice Saylor? Explain your answer.
The Supreme Court’s duty, under the Pennsylvania Constitution, was to decide the case, and the Supreme Court performed that duty. The nature of our judicial branch is that courts are often called upon to decide cases that are difficult or unpopular
25. Since judges are elected and you are running as a member of a political party, what does your party membership say about you and how big a role does it play in your outlook on legal matters?
26. Should party membership/loyalty play any role in getting a party’s nomination?
Respecting both Questions 25 and 26, the Judge is running as a member of a political party because the political process is the process by which Judges and Justices are selected in Pennsylvania. The judiciary has a Constitutionally-defined, yet limited, role in Pennsylvania society to interpret the law. This perception about the proper role of a judge is one articulated by the Judge’s political party.
The Judge’s outlook on legal matters is defined by her responsibilities under the Pennsylvania Constitution. Each case is accorded the time and effort necessary to understand, address and decide the issues presented in a fair and impartial manner. Her party affiliation plays no role, and should not, in the performance of her duties as a judge.
27. Would you recuse yourself if a campaign contributor were involved in litigation as a party or attorney before you?
The concern always is that parties are accorded fair and impartial treatment of their case. Recusal is sometimes warranted in order to avoid a bias toward, or even a perception of a bias toward, the contributor. Recusal is a function of a number of circumstances, including, for example, whether the judge is aware (or remembers) that the person was a campaign contributor, or whether the parties, once informed about the circumstances of the contribution/contributor, might have any objection to a judge’s involvement in the case.
28. In general, under what circumstances would you recuse yourself from a case?
Recusal occurs when a judge believes that the judge can not engage in fair and impartial decision-making or that the public is better served by the judge declining to rule on the matter as in, for example, a case where an appearance of a conflict of interest may exist.
29. To whom or what are judges accountable?
Judges are accountable to the Constitution and to the people.
30. What does “independence of the judiciary” mean to you?
Courts are often the only avenue for people to vindicate their rights. “Judicial independence” means that a judge is able to serve the public by performing his or her judicial and administrative duties in a fair and impartial manner and in a way that comports with powers and duties given or imposed by the Constitutions of Pennsylvania and of the United States. A judge performs his or her judicial duties when the judge engages in a disciplined analysis of the relevant Constitutional provision, statute or common law principle and relevant precedent, a careful and complete review of the record, an application of the applicable rules and the appropriate scope and standard of review, and fair, impartial and respectful treatment of all involved. A judge performs his or her administrative duties when those duties are performed in the context of what the Constitution requires and in an open and accountable manner. Judges who are able to perform their duties in this manner (that is, have the independence to serve in this way) are better able to assure the rights of all who use the courts.
31. How would you define a “threat to judicial independence?” And where are these threats coming from?
A threat to judicial independence occurs when other two branches of government or the public sanction judges for performing of their duties in a fair and impartial manner and in a way that comports with powers and duties given or imposed on them by the Constitutions of Pennsylvania and of the United States. America is distinguished worldwide because its judiciary is a co-equal branch of government with the legislature and the executive branches. Each branch is a check and a balance of the other two branches. Thus, in America, while the citizens may disagree with a judicial decision, citizens nevertheless do obey the decision.
When judges serve in a way described above in the answer to point 30 respecting fair and impartial decision making, then judges are serving the public by performing the job for which the judges were elected. Sanctioning judges for proper performance of their duties has the potential of destroying what makes America unique.
32. What is the biggest misunderstanding between judges and the general public
The public, it appears, has a perception that trial court judges have unfettered decision-making abilities. The truth is that decision-making is a function of many factors, including the requirements of the Constitution, the law, controlling precedent, the facts of the case, the operative rules and procedures and the judge’s determination regarding the credibility of the persons appearing in the matter. In addition, a litigant in Pennsylvania has a constitutionally protected right to appeal from a trial court’s determination. A trial judge’s decision is, thus, reviewable by appellate judges.