This year’s Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas race for two judgeships could test whether the Democrats are going to be able to perpetuate their interruption of the decades-long supremacy of Republicans in electing judges.
"I think both parties are looking at this as a defining moment," said Nathan M. Murawsky, a Democratic judicial candidate.
The question is if there is a complete shift over to Democrats with more Democratic voters in the county or if electoral contests are a lot closer than the board of commissioners’ race in 2011 suggested, Murawsky said.
"Any registered Democrat would be happy to point out that the registrant edge is now favoring the Democrats," said David A. Keightly, another Democratic judicial candidate.
Until Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas Judge Lois E. Murphy was elected in 2009, no Democrat had been elected to the bench in generations. Six Republican candidates and Murphy, as the sole Democrat, won in 2009.
Then in 2011, 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 Claire Coggins.
This year, the only true contests in the county are the judicial races.
Robert J. Kerns, chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Committee and of Kerns Pearlstine Onorato & Hladik, said, "I think we are going to do very well this year."
The three candidates are all formidable, Kerns said. Coggins ran unsuccessfully in 2011, losing by just short of 5,800 votes, and Joanna M. Cruz ran unsuccessfully in 2009, losing by less than 400 votes, Kerns said.
Sharon L. Giamporcaro is an assistant district attorney in the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, Kerns said. Giamporcaro said she has been endorsed by Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman.
The party’s endorsements were expected to be completed Thursday night after The Legal‘s publication deadline.
The Montgomery County Democratic Committee’s endorsement convention is set for February 28.
Marcel Groen, chairman of the Democratic committee and of Fox Rothschild, did not respond to requests for comment.
In another development, the Montgomery Bar Association’s judiciary committee has made its recommendations for the 2013 election.
Coggins and Adam D. Zucker were rated as "highly recommended."
Cruz, Giamporcaro, Keightly, Murawsky, Steven C. Tolliver Sr. and Gail Weilheimer were rated as "recommended."
Coggins, a criminal defense attorney with offices in Allentown and Norristown, Pa., has worked as a prosecutor, a public defender and a county solicitor. Coggins has worked for the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office and Solicitor’s Office and served as the chief public defender in Lehigh County. She and her husband have three children.
Coggins did not respond to a request for comment.
According to a 2009 report in The Legal, Cruz was working part-time at Kerns Pearlstine and part-time at the Montgomery Public Defender’s Office.
According to the firm’s website, Cruz started working at the firm in 2008 and represents clients in criminal, domestic and real estate matters. Before working at Kerns Pearlstine, Cruz was a full-time assistant public defender.
Cruz was appointed in 2011 to the Delaware River Port Authority, according to the firm’s website.
Cruz did not respond to a request for comment.
Giamporcaro, 54, is the chief of the juvenile division in the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office. She has been practicing law for 25 years, including as a deputy district attorney since 2000.
Giamporcaro also is a registered nurse who has been working part-time for the past five years in geriatric nursing taking care of retired nuns at St. Joseph Villa. Giamporcaro said she undertook the work in order to help pay for her children’s education. Her twin sons are 23.
"I chose two professions that were both public service professions," Giamporcaro said.
Giamporcaro also has done defense work of physicians and civil litigation in Blank Rome’s health care division. Among other activities, Giamporcaro is on the board for the Youth Study Center and is the district attorney point-person for the county’s school safety committee that aims to draft and recommend polices to address acts of violence on school property.
Keightly, 54, practices in Lansdale, Pa., in family law and criminal law as well as doing some work related to business, unemployment compensation and personal injury.
Keightly, who has been a lawyer since 1984, worked for the District Attorney’s Office from 1987 until 1994, including as chief of the pretrial division.
Keightly was a magisterial district judge for 18 years in Montgomery Township until losing an election last year.
Keightly said because of his 18 years of judicial experience, he knows how to move cases along, he understands rules of evidence and he is familiar with judicial administration. He also said he has significant experience in criminal law and family law, which are areas in which experience is helpful for the Court of Common Pleas.
Murawsky, 42, is a solo practitioner and a plaintiffs trial attorney. Murawsky has sat as an arbitrator and mediator, including as a settlement master in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas’ judge pro tem program.
Murawsky said his interest in running for a judgeship developed when a former judge in Philadelphia who mediated a case Murawsky handled said that he had a good temperament and "that I seemed to be open to listening to all sides."
Murawsky’s wife, Melissa Palat Murawsky, is a partner at Blank Rome in securities and corporate law.
Nathan Murawsky’s community involvement has included the board for the Lower Moreland School District and serving on the legislative committee for a unit in which all the schools in the county discuss anything affecting public education.
Tolliver, 57, is running as a Democrat and has been practicing law as a trial attorney for 31 years. Currently, Tolliver is corporate legal counsel with Aetna in Blue Bell, Pa., and he has been with the insurer since September 1999. Tolliver has tried products liability cases, criminal cases and professional liability cases involving lawyers. At Aetna, Tolliver has managed antitrust and class action cases.
Lawyers, as problem-solvers, are "sometimes heroes to clients," Tolliver said. "Working in a corporate setting, you can really add value to the business area … in terms of helping to create business process improvements."
Prior to working for Aetna, Tolliver was a shareholder with Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin. Tolliver started out in criminal practice representing indigent criminal defendants through court appointments from Philadelphia judges in the 1980s.
Tolliver also serves as a hearing committee member of the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Weilheimer, 43, is running as a Democrat and has been practicing law for 18 years in education and municipal law. Weilheimer is senior counsel for Wisler Pearlstine in Blue Bell. She also has been solicitor for the Montgomery County Clerk of Court’s Office for the past six years.
Weilheimer also was an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia for seven years and ran the criminal defense practice for another small firm before joining Wisler Pearlstine.
"From being a trial lawyer, you understand the importance of having a courtroom running efficiency and effectively," Weilheimer said.
Weilheimer is an adjunct professor at Widener University School of Law in Delaware and an instructor for the National Institute for Trial Advocacy. Weilheimer also has served as a commissioner in Abington Township, Pa., from 2004 to 2008 and as counsel to the Democratic commissioners’ transition team.
The Legal reported in 2010 that Zucker primarily handles criminal defense and commercial litigation with the two-lawyer firm Mudrick & Zucker in Conshohocken, Pa., and Lansdale.
Zucker did not respond to a request for comment.
But he told TheLegal in 2010 he enjoys courtroom advocacy, and especially fighting for perceived underdogs. Zucker also has contracted with the Public Defender’s Office to handle preliminary hearings. Zucker identified as a Republican in 2010.