State judicial candidates in Pennsylvania are limited in what they can say about cases or issues that might make their way to the courtroom, so it can be difficult for voters to make sense of the field ahead of the May 21 primary elections.
But at a forum hosted by the advocacy group Pennsylvania for Modern Courts at the Parkway Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia Tuesday evening, five of the six candidates for Superior Court offered insight into their thinking as judges and aspiring jurists for the statewide appellate court.
There are two open seats on the court, which handles appeals of civil and criminal cases, as well as those in cases involving family and children.
Running in the Republican primary are Cumberland County Judge Christylee Peck, Chester County Deputy District Attorney Megan King, and Rebecca Warren, a lawyer and former Montour County district attorney. Running for the Democratic nomination are Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Daniel McCaffery as well as lawyers Beth Tarasi and Amanda Green-Hawkins from Allegheny County. Green-Hawkins, a lawyer who works for the United Steelworkers union, didn’t appear at the event.
Here are three things to know about the candidates.
You might not have heard of the individual candidates, but moderator Karl Myers asked them a potentially revealing question: Who is your legal hero, and why?
Christylee Peck: Scalia, “but not for the reason probably everyone here is sitting here thinking.It is because I love that he reached across and was really good friends with Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg. I like the idea that intellectually you can have completely different intellectual thoughts but you can have a discourse about it and you can be friends.” Courts should be balanced, Peck said, adding that she wanted a friendlier civic discourse.
Megan King: Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Saylor. King said she clerked for Saylor and described him as her mentor. “I remember getting multiple papers back covered in red pen. ... It was about making sure that you clearly think about what you want to say, and making sure that you’re following the law as it is written, and actually having the law guide you to your decisions,” she said, rather than bending the law to a desired outcome.
Beth Tarasi: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “She showed us as women that we can all do this.”
Daniel McCaffery: the late Edward R. Becker, former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia. McCaffery, who was born in Germantown and raised in Northeast Philly, recalled Becker as a “guy from the neighborhood” who would take the El to the federal courthouse at Sixth and Market Streets. “He was renowned as an intellectual giant, but more importantly he had a common touch.”
Money? What money?
Judicial candidates in Pennsylvania are prohibited from personally soliciting campaign contributions, but they are permitted to authorize fundraising committees to raise money on their behalf.
All the candidates said they were committed to transparency and disclosure in accordance with the law, but a couple suggested they were’nt even sure who’s bankrolling their campaigns.
McCaffery said he told his campaign committee “exactly what I thought I would need, and I’ve left it alone since then.”
“I have not checked,” he said. “I have not asked. Nor will I ask.”
Fellow Democrat Tarasi appeared to go a step further: “I don’t even know where the donations are coming from,” she said, adding that her campaign committee keeps track.
For the record, McCaffery had about $173,000 in his campaign account as of May 6, according to reports filed with the Department of State. Labor unions account for the bulk of his haul.
Tarasi had about $58,000 as of April 1 (the latest report is due Friday). Her biggest contribution was $10,000 from Janet Anti, a Pittsburgh pastor.
They are good at the humble-brag
Myers, the moderator, asked the candidates to name their biggest strengths and weaknesses. Some said they are hard workers, others excellent leaders, and so forth. Self-criticism is much more fun, so let’s get to that.
Warren: “I have a very low tolerance for injustice. I get very frustrated by it at times.”
Peck: “Being a judge is a heavy weight. And I really take the decisions to heart.”
King: “I burn a candle in too many places,” adding that she was a working mother of three. “Sometimes I don’t sleep a lot.”
McCaffery: “I don’t suffer fools lightly,” explaining that he gets frustrated if attorneys come to his courtroom unprepared.
Tarasi: “I get frustrated because I want the world to be a better place. There’s so many things I can’t change. I want to so bad. But I just have to kind of live with that.”