As the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Judicial Evaluation Commission released its second round of evaluations for Pennsylvania Superior Court candidates eyeing only one spot, it looked like there might only be one Republican running in an election cycle political observers say tends to favor the GOP.
Victor P. Stabile, the managing partner of Dilworth Paxson’s Harrisburg office and a Republican, appears to be running unopposed after Robert Wyda, a district court judge from Allegheny County, pulled his name out of the race, according to state records.
Wyda’s withdrawal becomes significant for Stabile, who ran unsuccessfully in the general election for appellate court in 2011, beyond this year’s May 21 primary, when you consider that political observers view off-year elections as tending to favor Republicans in Pennsylvania.
The news comes as the PBA’s Judicial Evaluation Commission released an updated set of recommendations for the candidates eyeing the vacant seat on the state’s frontline appeals court and one of the busiest appellate courts in the nation.
The only candidate the JEC evaluated during this round was Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge John T. McVay Jr., a Democrat whom the commission tapped as "recommended."
Reached for comment, McVay said his campaign work has come on nights and weekends. But he viewed his work as trial judge as experience that would outweigh any disadvantage of having to campaign after-hours.
The JEC recognized McVay, who is a family court judge, as having "outstanding legal ability" in that position. A licensed pharmacist, McVay has served as assistant solicitor for both Allegheny County and the city of Pittsburgh. He has described his judicial philosophy as one of "judicial pragmatism" and was rated by the Allegheny County Bar Association as "highly recommended" for the position.
The JEC noted that McVay has limited experience before appellate courts, but recommended him as someone with the "legal ability, experience, integrity and judicial temperament to perform satisfactorily on the Superior Court."
"He is recognized for his diligence, excellent temperament and willingness to employ unique solutions in matters that come before him," the commission said of McVay.
McVay will face Joseph C. Waters Jr., a Philadelphia Municipal Court judge who was with the Philadelphia Police Department for 21 years. He worked as a lawyer in private practice representing clients primarily in bankruptcy, family and criminal defense matters.
"His law enforcement background has served him well as a municipal court judge; however, his experience before the Superior Court is limited," the JEC said of Waters. "The commission found the candidate has adequate writing and analytical skills and believes the candidate would be able to perform satisfactorily as a judge on the Superior Court."
While Municipal Court is a lower court than the courts of common pleas, Waters has said in previous interviews that serving as a judge in that court has given him a vast amount of experience.
"The rules of evidence don’t change between Municipal Court and common pleas court and Superior Court," Waters has said in past interviews. "The Superior Court is record review. It’s not a credibility test. Even though we don’t do bench trials in Municipal Court, we develop a vast amount of experience."
Waters, who the JEC issued a "recommended" rating to in February, is the endorsed candidate for the Democrats, and Stabile, who received the same rating last month, is the endorsed candidate for the Republicans.
The JEC said Stabile has strong writing skills, administrative ability and experience in handling appellate matters.
"He is held in high regard by his peers, who have noted his intellect, strong work ethic and integrity," the association said of Stabile. "He also serves as a township supervisor and has an exemplary record of pro bono and community service."
It did not appear that Northampton County Court of Common Pleas Judge Edward G. Smith, a Republican and the only candidate who the JEC gave a "highly recommended" rating for the Superior Court spot, was still running.
Smith has not returned calls made by The Legal.
McVay said he only decided to run after Michael H. Wojcik, senior counsel with Thorp Reed & Armstrong, decided not to run.