THE CAMPAIGN FOR merit selection of judges got a big boost earlier this year when Gov. Rendell vowed to join the fight. Still, if merit selection fails, we suggest another alternative to picking judges: a television show that combines "American Idol" and "Celebrity Poker Showdown."

A televised "Amazing Philly Judge's Race" would be absurd, but not much more than the current system. Take the Common Pleas races, for example: 15 candidates vying for four slots. Many if not most of the candidates are well-qualified - far more than four are equally qualified.

So how to choose? For one, the state and city bar associations do a thorough vetting process in the races, interviewing candidates and releasing their determinations of "recommended" and "not recommended." It helps - a little. The Philadelphia Bar Association recommends 14 Common Pleas candidates for the four openings.

You can visit the bar Web sites (plus other resources listed on Page 18, our letters page) but that's still not going to make the choices any easier.

We know: We've gone through our own grueling process and still don't feel entirely qualified to judge the would-be judges. In fact, we initially decided to skip judicial endorsements this year, but realize this does a disservice to readers needing help making a choice. As a compromise, we zeroed in on the Common Pleas candidates (in three other races - Supreme, Superior, Municipal - we're publishing the bar's recommendations).

Instead of individual candidate interviews, we held a public forum for Common Pleas candidates, in partnership with the Inquirer editorial board. (Find a podcast of the forum and lots of other judicial information at go.philly.com/judges.) We also talked to people, reviewed questionnaires, and assessed the current lineup of the 90 people now on the bench. Our recommendations include:

Ellen Green Ceisler: Her work as the Police Department's integrity and accountability officer set a high and necessary standard for the department and for government as a whole. We repeat the endorsement we made last time she ran.

Greg Coleman, a seasoned attorney specializing in mental-health law, he is the well-regarded son of City Council's first African-American president. He has a law degree from Rutgers.

Running a one-woman practice in an under-served community has given Angeles Roca the depth and breadth of legal experience that makes her uniquely qualified. Fluency in Spanish is a plus.

Alice Beck DuBow has been a practicing lawyer for over 20 years in the public and private sectors. She is the daughter of highly regarded Judge Phyllis Beck.

Other candidates worthy of attention: Michael Erdos, Linda Carpenter, Beverly Muldrow.

SUPREME COURT (two slots): The Bar Association offers its "highly recommended" listing to Darnell Jones, Paul Panepinto (both from Philadelphia), Maureen Lally-Green and Debra Todd.

SUPERIOR COURT (four slots, two from each party: "Highly recommended" designation to Cheryl Allen, Christine Donohue, Ronald Folino, Anne Lazarus and Timothy McCormick.

MUNICIPAL (two slots): The bar recommends: Joyce Eubanks, Sean F. Kennedy, Joseph T. Murphy, Jr., Joseph J. O'Neill, Diane R. Thompson, Joseph C. Waters Jr. and Sandjai Weaver.

See the "On the Judges" box on the following page for places to get more information, including a public forum TODAY held by Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts. And tell your elected leaders that picking judges like this is courting disaster. *