The contest for the Democratic nomination to the state's busiest appellate court is between two lower-court judges who preside at opposite ends of Pennsylvania, and whose resumés differ almost as much as the state's east and west.
The winner of the May 21 primary election will run in the fall against Harrisburg corporate attorney Victor P. Stabile, who is unopposed for the Republican nomination. At stake is a seat on the 15-member Superior Court, which handles all state criminal and civil appeals not involving governance issues. The post places heavy demands on a judge's writing and reasoning skills, and it requires a solid work ethic to keep pace with roughly 8,000 cases a year.
Hailing from Philadelphia, Municipal Court Judge Joseph C. Waters Jr., 60, brings a wealth of street smarts from two decades as a city police officer, a dozen years specializing in criminal defense, and a hitch in the Marine Corps.
On the other end of the state, Allegheny County Family Court Judge John T. McVay Jr., 56, has spent nearly 20 years in government, including as counsel to the county Housing Authority and assistant solicitor for both the county and Pittsburgh prior to his election to the bench six years ago. Before he got his law degree, McVay worked as a pharmacist.
It might be said the two Democrats have as much in common as a Philly cheesesteak and a Primanti Bros. sandwich. But like the expansive Primanti model - which stuffs fries and other fixin's inside an overflowing roll - McVay offers his party's voters the most legal acumen and judicial experience.
In recommending McVay, state Bar Association officials said he is regarded as having shown "outstanding legal ability" on Family Court, where he has overseen thousands of delinquency cases and child-welfare placements. The bar said he earned praise "for his diligence, excellent temperament, and willingness to employ unique solutions in matters that come before him."
Although he entered the race late after Waters won the state Democratic endorsement, McVay's bench and legal experience make him well-suited to Superior Court.
By contrast, Waters' work on Municipal Court since 2009 has afforded him little if any opportunity to write opinions, which are the bread and butter of a Superior Court tenure. The state bar rated Waters recommended, crediting him with "adequate writing and analytical skills." But Democratic voters would do better to nominate JACK McVAY for Superior Court.
In the race for nine seats in the Philadelphia courts, voters face a bewildering choice of nearly three-dozen contenders. Fortunately, the Philadelphia Bar Association has done the spade work of narrowing the field, recommending roughly half the entrants while warning voters away from the others.