And in Southeast Pennsylvania, Democrats elected two judges to the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, bucking a decades-old trend that almost only Republicans win judgeships in that county. But Republicans only won the contested races for the Chester and Delaware County common pleas courts.
And perhaps to no great surprise, three judges rated as “not recommended” by the Philadelphia Bar Association won retention and all of the Democratic candidates for Philadelphia judgeships won.
Wecht, an Allegheny County Common Pleas Court judge, beat out Republican challenger Victor A. Stabile, the head of Dilworth Paxson’s Harrisburg office. With 99.2 percent of the precincts reporting as of press time, Wecht garnered more than 1 million votes or 54.6 percent, compared to Stabile’s 45.5 percent.
The Commonwealth Court race came in a little bit closer with Bucks County lawyer Covey earning 52.4 percent of the vote compared to fellow Bucks attorney Kathryn Boockvar taking 47.6 percent of the vote.
Wecht had a surge of donations to his campaign in the last reporting cycle before the election, with $300,000 alone coming from the Committee for a Better Tomorrow, a political action committee associated with the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association. As of the last finance reports, Wecht had raised $516,000 throughout the campaign and Stabile had brought in $198,000.
A larger campaign coffer didn’t equate to a win in the Commonwealth Court race. As of the latest reporting cycle, Boockvar had edged out Covey in donations, bringing in $352,000 compared to Covey’s $344,000.
Wecht said he was looking forward to serving on the court and has already reached out to several Superior Court judges to set up times to meet with them in advance of joining the court in January.
Wecht said the extra money in campaign contributions certainly helped him win in that he was able to buy network TV spots in three of the state’s six media markets — Pittsburgh, Altoona/Johnstown and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
He said he was also helped by the fact that he had judicial experience, was the only “highly recommended” candidate, was endorsed by the major newspapers in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and has run in elections before.
While the turnout in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia was not very strong, it wasn’t “abysmally low,” Wecht said, adding that he was “no doubt” helped by the Democrats’ success in Montgomery County, which is the third largest county in the state. He said he outperformed his expectations in Southwest Pennsylvania as well as in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties.
G. Terry Madonna, director of Franklin & Marshall College’s Center for Politics and Public Affairs, said Wecht has a recognizable name as the son of celebrity forensic pathologist Cyril H. Wecht and benefited from that name recognition.
Political strategist Larry Ceisler said Wecht’s campaign also benefited from trial-lawyer donations.
“That’s a very good night for the trial bar in Pennsylvania,” Ceisler said.
Covey said she was thrilled her message resonated with voters that judges should not be legislating from the bench. After law school she clerked for former Commonwealth Court President Judge David W. Craig. She said he taught his clerks to write clearly and concisely so that anyone in the state could understand the meaning of an opinion. Covey said he also taught them to understand how important each case is to the lives of the litigants.
Covey said she will be busy in the next few months trying to figure out how to transition her labor and employment law firm, for which she is the only shareholder. She will also have to figure out where her chambers will be in Bucks County and start hiring staff.
Wecht said he plans to maintain an active docket up through the end of his time on the Allegheny Common Pleas Court.
NEW RETENTION REALITY
Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin easily won his retention campaign with 73.6 percent of voters opting to give him another 10-year term.
Eakin’s campaign, however, didn’t fundraise as if the election were a lock. The campaign raised nearly $515,000 as of Oct. 24, the latest reporting cycle for which information was available on the Pennsylvania Department of State’s website. The Associated Press has reported that number increased to $526,000 by the Thursday before election day.
Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott’s Robert A. Graci, general counsel to Eakin’s campaign, said Eakin spent money on advertising and traveling across the state to refresh voters’ memories about who he was.
“People ought to be paying attention to these things,” he said, adding retention campaigns shouldn’t fly under the radar as they had in the past.
But more than just informing voters, the money raised was to combat a potential effort to unseat Eakin that ultimately never came.
Graci said there was no identifiable concern, but as the Occupy Wall Street movement has shown, grassroots campaigns can pop up and be sustainable in no time at all. Candidates need to be prepared to combat a potential threat, and that includes having money to run last minute responses, he said.
In a world of social media, candidates need to be more prepared, he said.
“One of the things any candidate had to be concerned about is that something could pop up a day or two before the election and go viral and [candidates] had to be in the position to respond to that,” Graci said.
There were five other appellate judges up for retention this year. Superior Court Judges John T. Bender and Mary Jane Bowes were retained by 71.8 percent and 73.5 percent, respectively. Commonwealth Court Judges Reneé Cohn Jubelirer, Mary Hannah Leavitt and Robert E. Simpson Jr. were all retained with more than 70 percent of the vote.
COMMON PLEAS COURT RACES
The electoral fate of the county commissioners race in Montgomery County may have determined the fate of the new judges in the county.
Democrats won control of Montgomery County’s board of commissioners for the first time since the 1800s. Along with them, the two Democratic judicial candidates, Cheryl Austin and Richard Haaz, won, beating out Republican candidates Daniel Clifford and Maureen Coggins.
“People take their cues from the top of the ticket,” Ceisler said. “The Democrats won the majority in the commissioners’ offices for the first time in 140 years.”
The Democrats also won contested row offices associated with the courthouse: clerk of courts, coroner, prothonotary and register of wills. The Republicans won sheriff and recorder of deeds.
The judicial candidates were separated by just a few thousand votes: Haaz won 81,412 votes, Austin won 80,224, Coggins won 74,436 and Clifford won 74,213.
The Republican judicial candidates ran strong campaigns, Ceisler said, but “you’re a down-ballot office and it’s very difficult to buck that trend.”
Montgomery County has been trending Democratic since the 1990s, Madonna said, and even the Republican voters are more moderate.
“Now they’re going into the courthouse,” Madonna said. “Montgomery County is well on the way to becoming a Democratic county.”
In contrast, Republicans continued their electoral success in Chester County and Delaware County judgeships. Republicans Ann Marie Wheatcraft and Mark Tunnell defeated Fredda Denise Maddox and Tom Purl for the two judgeships open in Chester County. Republicans Christine Fizzano Cannon, John P. Capuzzi Sr., G. Michael Green, Spiros E. Angelos and Nathaniel C. Nichols defeated Democrats Michael F. Schleigh, Sally-Ann Heckert Bikin and G. Lawrence DeMarco for the five judgeships open in Delaware County.
James M. McMaster was uncontested in his bid for the sole Bucks County Common Pleas Court judgeship up for election Tuesday.
Philadelphia heavily tilted toward Democrats. Candidates running on the Democratic lines won election to Philadelphia Common Pleas Court and Philadelphia Municipal Court.
Democrats Maria McLaughlin, Charles Ehrlich, Sean Kennedy, Angelo J. Foglietta, Diana Anhalt, Jonathan Q. Irvine, Barbara A. McDermott, Vincent L. Johnson, Edward C. Wright, Carolyn H. Nichols and Thomas M. Nocella were elected to Common Pleas Court. Democrats Joyce Eubanks and Marvin L. Williams ran uncontested for Philadelphia Municipal Court.
All 27 judges up for retention were able to keep their seats on the bench.
Voters retained three judges that the Philadelphia Bar Association’s judicial ratings arm said were “not recommended” for retention: Common Pleas Court Judge James Murray Lynn of the trial division’s criminal branch; Common Pleas Court Judge Robert J. Rebstock of the family division’s juvenile branch; and Municipal Court Judge James M. DeLeon.
The bar association’s ratings arm did not give reasons for its recommendation that the judges not be retained.
If the recommendations had any influence, they seemed only to budge voter viewpoints by a few percentage points. Around 72.2 percent to 77.5 percent of voters said to retain the common pleas judges the bar association recommended for retention, while 67.2 percent voted in favor of retaining Lynn and 66.3 percent voted in favor of retaining Rebstock.
The judges retained for new terms on the Common Pleas Court were: Joan A. Brown, Denis P. Cohen, Rose Marie DeFino-Nastasi, Thomas Dempsey, Kevin M. Dougherty, Gary S. Glazer, Elizabeth Jackson, Lynn, Margaret T. Murphy, Arnold L. New, George W. Overton, Paul P. Panepinto, Nitza I. Quiñones Alejandro, Lisa M. Rau, Rebstock, Gregory E. Smith, Albert John Snite Jr., Earl W. Trent Jr. and Christopher R. Wogan.
In the Municipal Court retention elections, DeLeon received “yes” votes from 69.2 percent of electors, while seven other judges were retained with “yes” votes ranging from 73.1 percent to 76.1 percent.
The judges retained on the Municipal Court were: DeLeon, Thomas Francis Gehret, Nazario Jimenez Jr., William A. Meehan Jr., Brad Moss, Harvey William Robbins, David C. Shuter and Karen Yvette Simmons.
Contact Gina Passarella at 215-557-2494 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GPassarellaTLI. Contact Amaris Elliott-Engel at 215-557-2354 or at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisTLI.