In what could hardly count as a surprise, candidates with Democratic backing swept the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas elections last Tuesday.
Six candidates vied for four open seats, and all four candidates with Democratic backing were elected. However, the highest number of votes went to candidates with both Democratic and Republican backing.
The biggest vote-getter was former head of the Homicide Unit of the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office Mark V. Tranquilli. Tranquilli, who prosecuted several high-profile cases in his two-decade career as a prosecutor, got 116,695 votes, or slightly more than 21 percent of the vote.
Tranquilli said he is excited to begin working at the Family Division, which is where new Allegheny County judges often start, and that his background as a prosecutor and trial attorney will help him successfully handle cases.
“Running the Homicide Unit, by the time most of these young men got to my desk, there was nothing I could do for them,” he said. “If they gave me a caseload concentrated on juveniles, I could maybe affect positive change and get those kids off the path and headed in the right direction.”
He added that being raised in a low-income home by his mother and grandmother will also help him handle the Family Division caseload.
“Coming from a broken home, I know what it’s like to be a kid caught in the middle,” he said. “If I could use that shared experience and parlay it into some trust, I might be able to get one in 10 of these kids pointed in the right direction.”
His campaign spent the second-largest amount of money in the race, according to Pennsylvania Department of State records. Filings indicated that he spent a total of $465,273, including $190,000 of his own money. He was one of two candidates to win both Republican and Democratic support in the primaries, and was rated as “highly recommended” by the Allegheny County Bar Association.
Judge Paul E. Cozza, who has been serving on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Family Division since he was appointed in 2011, had the second-largest number of votes, with 108,291, or approximately 19 percent, and was elected to his first full term on the bench.
Cozza worked for more than 21 years as an attorney prior to his appointment to the bench. In 2009, he was appointed by the court to be the special master on the Board of Viewers. Cozza also won both the Republican and Democratic tickets in the primaries.
According to financial filings with the Department of State, Cozza’s campaign spent a total of $365,525, which placed him fourth out of six candidates.
Former defense attorney Jennifer Satler had the third-highest number of votes, with 97,690, or roughly 18 percent of the vote.
Satler was not only the largest spender for the court’s elections this season, she was also the only candidate to receive the rating of “not recommended at this time” by the ACBA.
Satler said that although she expected to start in the Family Division, she hoped to be selected for the Criminal Division in the future.
“I think that it’s important to have as much experience in as many divisions as you can practice,” she said. “I definitely would like to be in criminal, but there is so much important work that can be done in the Family Division, and I am looking forward to working there.”
Satler said she did not feel the ACBA’s rating was a significant factor in the election, and that she plans to work on increasing the efficiency of the courts.
According to financial records, Satler spent a total of $549,385. While much of the money came from Satler herself, with reports showing that she spent $198,520 on the campaign in May and October combined, she said the spending was necessary to get her message out to the voters.
“I’m thankful I was able to get my message out,” she said. “I’m thankful to the voters and I’m looking forward to getting to work for them.”
Eleanor Bush, who ran the least expensive campaign, garnered the fourth-largest number of votes, with 96,780, or approximately 18 percent of the vote.
Bush, who works at the Pennsylvania Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network in the legal training division and has spent 25 years as an attorney, said in an interview with the Law Weekly last week that she hoped to work in the Family Division.
Through a committee and an individual campaign, she spent $63,085, and was rated “highly recommended” by the ACBA.
The two exclusively Republican-backed candidates received the fewest number of votes.
Bill Ward, who has sat on the Family Division bench since June 2012 and was rated “highly recommended” by the ACBA, received 68,708 votes, or approximately 12 percent of the vote, and Pittsburgh attorney P.J. Murray received 59,174 votes, or nearly 11 percent.
According to the Department of State, a total of 547,338 people turned out to vote on the judicial candidates.