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Judge Gene Strassburger has been in this position before. As he prepares to take over as the newly appointed administrative judge for the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Civil Division on Jan. 7, he will once again follow in the footsteps of Judge R. Stanton Wettick, who will take senior status in January. While he was in the family division, Strassburger was administrative judge from 1990 to 1993, right after Wettick’s appointment ended. “Those are some pretty big shoes to fill,” said Strassburger, 64, who has been on the bench since 1978 and currently serves as the calendar control judge for the civil division. “He’s a great judge and has been a great administrator. Everyone was happy with how things ran.” Mark Shepard, a shareholder with the law firm of Babst Calland Clements & Zomnir, agreed. “Judge Wettick is widely considered the dean of judges in the court of common pleas,” he said. “It’s no accident that he has handled the complex cases for well over 10 years. That’s a testament to his abilities, intellect and his talent.” One issue that Strassburger plans to address is that Allegheny County lawyers are interested in a more expansive voir dire and a larger role for attorneys in that process. The current process involves using the assignment room method of selecting juries. Attorneys have been asking the civil division to revise this process and start conducting a traditional voir dire process. “When my brother and my son, both of whom practice at a family law firm, come to me and say that this is an idea whose time has come, I can see the handwriting on the wall,” he said, with a laugh. “So I’m in the process of putting together a committee to look at this but I expect there’ll be some more expansive voir dire and a more expansive role for attorneys in the process. I have been talking to some judges in Philadelphia [as] to how they do things. I don’t know if it will be major changes, but there will be some changes.” Shepard, who has known Strassburger for about 20 years, said that Strassburger will do just fine. “He’s a very practical judge with keen intelligence and in this new position, he has the advantage of having performed as calendar control judge for a number of years, which is really excellent preparation for being the administrative judge,” he said. “Judge Strassburger has had to deal with both the legal issues that arise in the context of cases on the trial list as well as administrating an active docket. That experience, along with his relationship with his colleagues, is really a natural progression for the judge.” Gary Hunt, managing shareholder with Tucker Arensberg, said the state Supreme Court made an excellent decision in their selection of a successor to Wettick. “Judge Strassburger has demonstrated outstanding judicial and management skills throughout his judicial career,” he said. “His leadership was instrumental in clearing up the backlog of cases on the trial list. I have no doubt that these skills will translate well in his new position, and make him a very effective administrative judge.” Strassburger received his Bachelor of Arts summa cum laude from Yale University in 1964 and his law degree, cum laude, from Harvard Law School in 1967. After Wettick takes senior status in January, Strassburger will have the most years served on the bench in the civil division. But that doesn’t bother him at all. “I was only 34 years old when I first came to the bench,” he said. “So I still have the mental self-image as a kid judge even though I’m one of the older judges.” As the administrative judge, one of his duties will be to oversee the 14 judges and 30 court employees in the civil division. He doesn’t plan to make any major changes and also doesn’t plan to change much from what he’s doing now as calendar control judge, a role in which he plans to continue. “The civil division has run smoothly because of Judge Wettick,” he said. “I may tweak things, but I don’t see any major changes.” Strassburger said his goal will be to continue to keep things running smoothly and to make sure the trial list is as current as possible. “Those were part of my duties the last eight years as calendar control judge and Judge Wettick had given me great support with that,” he said. “In the last couple years, he had also delegated some of the personnel functions to me so it’s not like I’m coming in cold.” Anna Bamonte Torrance, an attorney practicing health law with Houston Harbaugh, has known Strassburger for more than 20 years. She looks forward to seeing Strassburger in his new role. “I think he’ll do a wonderful job,” she said. “Judge Wettick has been in that position for many years and has been well respected. But Judge Strassburger is also a very well-respected legal mind and I think he’s very capable and will do an excellent job.”

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