Pennsylvania's hardest-working appellate division is Superior Court, so why are 10 candidates clamoring to join this 15-member bench? After all, their reward for landing one of two vacant posts will be long days, handling literally hundreds of cases each year.

Maybe these folks just like a challenge. This group of May 15 primary candidates - three Republicans and seven Democrats - certainly contains accomplished lower-court judges and attorneys.

Aren't they all sitting judges seeking to rise in the ranks, voters might ask? Not so, and that's not a problem. This bench - which hears most criminal and civil trial appeals - has a decades-long tradition of welcoming both Common Pleas Court judges and seasoned attorneys to its ranks, with equal success.

Six candidates stand out, but voters must narrow their choices to the four who appear to be the best bets, two from each party.

Republican BRUCE E. BRATTON, 57, has been a Dauphin County judge since 2001, with 25 years' prior legal experience and Army service in Vietnam. As the Pennsylvania Bar Association noted, Bratton's "reputation as a bright, hard-working and intelligent jurist" should serve him well on the appellate bench.

Another good jurist, Allegheny County Judge CHERYL L. ALLEN, 59, has spent more than 16 years on the bench, with experience in criminal and civil court. The bar association lauds her work in juvenile court, calling her "a productive, principled and dedicated jurist" and giving her its coveted "highly recommended" rating. Some of Judge Allen's rulings resulted in changes to criminal procedure rules, indicating the former elementary school teacher's legal scholarship.

By only a slight margin does former nurse Jacqueline O. Shogan, a Pittsburgh health-law litigator, trail the other GOP candidates.

Democrats confidently can choose CHRISTINE L. DONOHUE, 54, also a Pittsburgh commercial litigator. The daughter of a Carbon County coal miner and dressmaker mother was first in her family to attend college. She has served as a judge on both the state's judicial and attorney discipline panels. In rating her "highly recommended," the state bar described Donohue as "intelligent, conscientious and objective."

Philadelphia Judge JOHN M. YOUNGE, 51, has been on the Common Pleas bench since 1995, previously working in city government. He's headed the state trial-judge organization, and is credited by the state bar with "a real commitment to both the process and substance of justice."

Were there another Democratic nomination, it should go to Younge's colleague, Anne E. Lazarus, another highly rated judge with extensive trial experience the past 15 years.

Read what the candidates have to say at http://go.philly.com/judges.