Mike Krancer is known as the rich guy on the campaign trail.

He is a great-nephew of the late philanthropist Walter Annenberg and is relying heavily on family money - more than $1 million - to finance his campaign for a seat on Pennsylvania's highest court.

Krancer, a Republican, said his family's role had helped him avoid the fund-raising pressures faced by other candidates whose campaigns have received contributions from special-interest groups.

"I got zero and I didn't want any," said Krancer, 49, who was a judge on the state Environmental Hearing Board from 1999 until earlier this year after 17 years as a lawyer at two big Center City firms.

A lifelong resident of Montgomery County, Krancer lives with his family in Bryn Mawr, and those who know him say he has wide and eclectic interests.

He is a Civil War buff, is interested in U.S. naval and biblical history, and is studying for a master's degree in theology at Villanova University. He tutors children in Germantown, taught himself to read Greek to study the New Testament, and has four copies of the Federalist Papers at home.

"He's one of the smartest people I've ever met," said Harrisburg lawyer Donald L. Carmelite, who was a law clerk for Krancer at the environmental board and who has remained friendly with him.

Carmelite said Krancer was not showy about his wealth.

"If you didn't see what his house looked like, you wouldn't know he was raised on the Main Line," Carmelite said. "You would just think this is an average-Joe kind of guy."

According to campaign-finance reports, family contributions make up about 70 percent of the $1.3 million his campaign has raised in the closely contested race - which already has broken the fund-raising record for Pennsylvania Supreme Court contests.

The other candidates for two seats on the court are three state Superior Court judges: Republican Maureen Lally-Green of Butler County and Democrats Seamus P. McCaffery of Philadelphia and Debra Todd of Butler County.

Krancer predicted that the other candidates, if elected, would wind up with contributors who have cases in the courts - and said he was glad he would not be in that uncomfortable position.

"My family and friends are the ones who first and foremost support me. Most Pennsylvanians are family people, and they understand family support," said Krancer, whose campaign also has received donations from lawyers and business people.

Campaign records show that Krancer has donated $210,000 to his court campaign, and that his wife, Barbara, has contributed $300,000. His father, Ronald, has given more than $500,000 to the campaign, and his great-aunt, Leonore Annenberg, has donated about $35,000. Others, including lawyers and business people, contributed about $400,000.

Krancer said he believed judges should not "legislate from the bench" but should decide cases strictly based on the text of the Constitution and statutes, a more conservative judicial philosophy.

Krancer said he decided to go for the black robes after growing weary of his own experiences with judges who he said were unprepared, not up on the law, or just plain rude.

"That really disillusioned me," he told a group of law students at Drexel University earlier this week.

He was appointed to the environmental board by Gov. Tom Ridge in 1999 and named chief judge by Gov. Rendell. In one mine-safety case, he went down into a Western Pennsylvania coal mine to check out safety conditions, eventually ruling in favor of the mine workers.

Krancer said he also was on the short list for a federal judgeship but was now "100 percent" focused on the state high court.

Krancer said his father's contributions to Rendell's campaign played no role in his elevation to chief judge. His father and Rendell are longtime friends, he said. "I would never have gotten the time of day without my record and my work," he said.

The Pennsylvania Bar Association called Krancer "scholarly" and "passionate about the law" and gave him a "recommended" rating, one of three possible ratings, including "highly recommended" and "not recommended."

Krancer said he wanted to restore confidence in the state Supreme Court, encourage the justices to take more cases, and issue decisions much more quickly.

"I have a lot to add to this Supreme Court for the people of this state," said Krancer, who said he had detected deep disillusionment across Pennsylvania's 67 counties with state government and the judiciary.

Most of the anger, he said, was due to legislators' middle-of-the-night passage of pay raises for themselves and judges in 2005 and the state Supreme Court's 2006 decision reinstating raises for the judges after lawmakers repealed the pay hikes.

In a reform package he proposed this week, Krancer said justices should not meet secretly with members of the executive or legislative branches, and should allow the Pennsylvania Cable Network to telecast oral arguments.

He also called for the court to issue written opinions in every case and said justices should do public outreach so the public has a better understanding of the court system.

Krancer said there was a thirst for change among the electorate.

"The people," he said, "are just screaming for reform."