LET'S TAKE a few minutes to chat about our state Supreme Court.

You're perhaps aware it's going through a rough period.

One Democratic justice, Philly's Seamus McCaffery, resigned last year after being connected to an email porn probe.

That came after a Republican justice, Pittsburgh's Joan Orie Melvin, was convicted of campaign-related corruption.

Now a third justice, Republican Michael Eakin, of Central Pennsylvania, is under review, after being linked to emails the high court says it's "disturbed" by.

Things are so bad, court candidates now running are subtly and not so subtly referring to these problems in TV ads.

Democratic Superior Court Judge David Wecht has an ad noting that his dad (famed forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht) taught him about "following the rules . . . because nothing's more important than honesty and integrity."

And Democratic Superior Court Judge Christine Donohue's ad says she wants to "bring integrity back" to the court.

There are three vacancies, the most ever; the current political makeup on the seven-member court is two Democrats, two Republicans.

So the Nov. 3 election determines political balance, perhaps for a long time. Justices are elected to 10-year terms.

There are seven candidates.

In addition to Wecht and Donohue, there's Democratic Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Kevin Dougherty (brother of IBEW Local 98 chief John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty) and Philly Common Pleas Judge Paul Panepinto, who's running as an independent.

Republicans are Commonwealth Court Judge Anne Covey, Adams County President Judge Michael George and Superior Court Judge Judy Olson.

All seven are to take part in a statewide TV debate this evening at Widener Law School's Harrisburg campus from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

The Pennsylvania Cable Network is airing the event live, replaying it at 8:30 p.m. and again Saturday at 3 p.m.

There's also a candidate forum at Community College of Philadelphia on Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. if you want to see these folks in person.

The irony here is running for the highest court - where critical policy and political issues such as voter-ID laws and legislative redistricting are determined - gets little public attention.

The race is a low-information, low-turnout event. Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states, and the only northeastern state, electing judges at all levels.

(I've long argued against statewide elections since voters don't know candidates, and judges raising campaign funds smacks of justice for sale.)

Endorsements follow predictable party ideologies.

Democrats are endorsed by the AFL-CIO, lots of other labor and environmental groups.

Republicans are endorsed by Firearms Owners Against Crime, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry and the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation.

Court-race watchers say they can't predict outcomes because of the season's odd and volatile political atmosphere.

Republicans are expected to get a big push from outside money (independent expenditure groups), which benefitted GOP court candidates in other states since the U.S. Supreme Court opened up campaign spending in 2010 with its Citizens United decision.

But Democrats hope the veil of trauma and turmoil hanging over the GOP because of its crisis of leadership in the U.S. House and its chaotic contest for a presidential nominee dampens GOP voters' enthusiasm.

Also, the Philly mayoral election and a county executive race in Pittsburgh, both happening in Democratic strongholds, could push up Democratic turnout, though neither contest is competitive.

But although there are more registered Democrats than Republicans statewide, Republicans tend to vote in every election, while Democrats turn out heavily only in presidential years.

In short, Republicans, since it's an off-year election, could win at least two seats, enough for a court majority. But Democrats could win at least two seats if Pittsburgh and Philly votes.

The state bar's "highly recommended" rating goes only to the three candidates now on the state's second-highest court: Superior Court Judges Donohue, Olson and Wecht.

But that shouldn't stop voters from watching and judging for themselves.

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer