Now that Governor Tom Corbett has picked his replacement for former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin — state Superior Court President Judge Correale F. Stevens — who is going to replace Stevens on the state's busiest court?
Stevens, while clarifying that everything is subject to the Senate confirming his appointment to the state's high court, said the process of finding his replacement will play out like this:
If the Senate were to confirm his appointment by a two-thirds majority before the end of the month, a timeline for which he said he was hopeful, Stevens would immediately pick his replacement.
That person would then call a meeting of the court within 30 days of his or her appointment for the court to elect a president judge to close out the year.
By year's end, according to Stevens, that acting president judge would call for an election among the court's 13 remaining judges to tap someone for the following five years — the full term as president judge.
Stevens, the second-most-tenured judge on the court, was elected president judge by his colleagues in 2011.
His predecessor, Judge Kate Ford Elliott, was president judge from 2006 to 2011. And, though Stevens declined to comment on whom he would pick should the Senate confirm his seat on the Supreme Court, Ford Elliott seems to be the logical choice for the brief transition, and probably to close out 2013. However, according to Pennsylvania Rule 706, Ford Elliott most likely will not be elected for the following full elected term as president judge.
The rule states no president judge may succeed himself or herself after a full elected term without an intervening full elected term.
Stevens' term as president judge was set to expire in 2016, though the next five-year term will run until 2019.
Ford Elliott was first elected to the Superior Court in 1989 and her current, third term on the bench ends in 2019. She is 64 years old.
Judge John T. Bender, who is also 64 years old, is in his second term, which ends in 2021.
Judge Mary Jane Bowes is 54 years old and in her second term on the court, ending in 2021.
Every other judge is on his or her first term. Judges Jack A. Panella and Susan Peikes Gantman are finishing out their first terms at the end of this year and both have only two fewer years' experience than Bowes and Bender, according to the court's website.
Ford Elliott and Bowes did not return calls requesting comment. Bender declined comment.
Stevens, however, said this about his colleagues: "They are very collegial and I'm confident they'll work something out to everyone's satisfaction."
On the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the chief justice is automatically picked based on seniority. The state's intermediate appellate courts, on the other hand, call for a vote. But in recent history, appellate judges have afforded deference to their more tenured colleagues.
When Commonwealth Court President Judge Dan Pellegrini was elected to lead the court of original jurisdiction, for example, he was the second-most-tenured judge on the bench.
In the event of a tie, according to Rule 706, the Superior Court hands the matter up to the Supreme Court, which will "indicate its selection of president judge" and hand it down to the Superior Court, which will then file it on record. How the Supreme Court decides is not explained in the rule.
Meanwhile, the Superior Court, among the busiest courts in the country, has a vacancy stemming from Senior Judge John L. Musmanno's mandatory retirement. Musmanno still sits on panels as a senior judge; his seat is set to be filled in November. The two candidates for that seat are Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Jack McVay Jr., a Democrat, and Victor Stabile, the Republican managing partner of Dilworth Paxson's Harrisburg office.
Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille and other judicial leaders have called for a moratorium on filling vacancies as the state's court system faces funding cuts in light of the state's budget crunch. Castille said the Supreme Court, the state's court of last resort, is an exception.
Orie Melvin resigned earlier this year when she was convicted of using judicial staffers to perform political work. Orie Melvin is appealing her case to the Superior Court, on which she was a judge before Pennsylvania voters elected her to the high court.
Whether Stevens' judicial seat would be filled by an appointment is up to the governor. Five senior judges sit on panels of the Superior Court, according to the court's website.