Allegheny President Judge Jeffrey Manning
Allegheny President Judge Jeffrey Manning (dk)

A 25-year veteran of the courts with a reputation for being scholarly and ties to the county bar association has been elected as president judge of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.

Jeffrey A. Manning was unanimously elected to the position Dec. 13 through a secret ballot of all the judges in the district. His five-year term begins today.

According to Mark T. Vuono, president of the Allegheny County Bar Association and of Vuono & Gray in Pittsburgh, Manning, who has been a member of the association’s board of governors for 21 years, is highly regarded in the legal community and is a friend of the bar association.

“He has a great reputation as a judge,” Vuono said. “He’s known to be fair but tough. He’s very intelligent and just knows how to run a courtroom.”

Manning was appointed to the court in 1988 by Gov. Robert P. Casey Sr., and was elected to a full 10-year term the following year. He won retention in 1999 and again in 2009.

For the past five years, Manning has been the administrative judge of the court’s criminal division. During that time, Manning said, he worked to ensure that the judges he oversaw disposed of more cases than just the ones they were assigned, which helped the division cut a backlog of roughly 14,000 cases to 8,000.

“It’s an incredible honor that your colleagues think enough of you to vote you into this position,” Manning said.

In his term as president judge, Manning said, he hopes to bring improvements to the court facilities, and also plans to help adjust the workload to ensure that all judges will have an equal opportunity to handle cases. He also said he plans to develop an attitude of teamwork, which he said he fostered in the criminal division during his time there.

According to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, Manning will oversee 43 judges, 46 magisterial district judges and approximately 1,200 court personnel throughout the district, which is the second largest in the state.

“It’s not a surprise,” John P. Gismondi, of Gismondi & Associates, said of Manning’s election. “He’s smart. He knows the details and he pays attention when he’s on the bench. He’s got the experience, and he’s got the interest in doing whatever he can in supporting the court system.”

As a personal injury attorney, Gismondi said that Manning has handled only a few of his cases, but they worked together as attorneys before Manning took the bench and also as members of the bar association.

Gismondi added that Manning does not shy away from difficult decisions. Gismondi specifically noted Manning’s August 2012 decision to consolidate the trials of former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her sister and former staffer Janine Orie. That decision came after Orie Melvin requested Manning recuse himself because he had handled the trial of her other sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie.

“He’s not afraid to take on the hard issues,” Gismondi said. “You can disagree with the decision, but he didn’t try to avoid it whatsoever.”

According to criminal defense attorney Frank Walker, Manning’s thoughtfulness and scholarly understanding of the law will make him an excellent president judge.

“Every time I go to his courtroom, he knows the cases more than the lawyers on either side, so you’d better be prepared,” Walker said. “He knows the facts of the cases. He knows the case law. And he’s fair, and that’s really all you can ask for. He’ll do a great job for the court system in general.”

For more than 20 years, Manning has additionally worked as an adjunct professor of law at Duquesne University School of Law. In 2011, he was awarded the Adjunct Professor Award for “outstanding contributions in teaching.”

Walker said he once sat in on one of Manning’s classes as a witness in a mock trial, and that many of his colleagues have sat through Manning’s trial classes.

“He is a scholar,” Walker said. “You could see how well prepared his students were, and that’s a direct reflection of the teacher.”

Manning has presided over thousands of criminal cases, including more than 400 jury trials, 21 of which were death penalty cases, according to the AOPC. He also has presided over some 50 civil trials, including personal injury, medical malpractice, products liability and sexual harassment cases.

Manning will succeed outgoing President Judge Donna Jo McDaniel, who served in the position from 2008 until 2013.

Max Mitchell can be contacted at 215-557-2354 or mmitchell@alm.com. Follow him on Twitter @MMitchellTLI.