Common Pleas Court is the not the highest rung of the judicial system in Pennsylvania, but it is an uncommonly important venue for most people who seek justice. It is where much of the legal business of a county is adjudicated -- and voters thus need to study carefully the candidates who would occupy its benches.
In Allegheny County, some good choices await voters in the May 17 primary. Seven candidates are entered in this race for two seats. Five of them have cross-filed, as permitted by law, meaning their names will appear on both parties' ballots.
Our judgment of the best qualified pair in this race happens to parallel the ratings given by the Allegheny County Bar Association. Its evaluation panel rated Daniel J. Konieczka Jr. and Alexander P. Bicket "highly recommended" -- the highest rating reserved for candidates who are considered outstanding in legal ability, experience and good character.
Mr. Konieczka, 49, of Shaler, received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Pittsburgh. A partner in the criminal defense firm of DeLuca. Ricciuti & Konieczka, he served for more than 23 years in the district attorney's office. He prosecuted or supervised more than 1,000 cases during his career, winning awards and distinctions for outstanding performance along the way.
Mr. Bicket, 54, was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and came to America three decades ago to attend Columbia University, where be obtained a master's degree in psychology. A U.S. citizen since 1988, he spent his first seven years in Pittsburgh teaching English and Latin at Fox Chapel High School, while attending Duquesne University Law School at night.
For 23 years, he has been a trial lawyer in civil litigation at Zimmer Kunz PLLC, where he is a partner. Mr. Bicket ran for judge two years ago and won the Republican nomination, but not the Democrats'. He did not campaign for the general election in deference to the endorsed Democratic Party candidates.
Two other candidates on the ballot are worthy of the voters' consideration.
Eleanor Bush, 51, of Squirrel Hill, who holds three degrees from Yale University (one her J.D.), has devoted her career to children's issues in various agencies and wants to take her expertise to the court's Family Division.
Mike Marmo, 56, of Ohio Township, is already sitting as a judge. After unsuccessfully running two years ago, he ended up being appointed to the bench to fill a vacancy. Judge Marmo, who has a law degree from Duquesne and two other degrees from Pitt, sits in Family Division where he relishes the work.
Three other contenders round out the field. Carmen L. Robinson, 42, of Crawford Square, is a former city police sergeant who runs her own legal practice. Leah Williams Duncan, 45, of Brighton Heights, is an attorney who has served as a hearing officer in the court's Family Division since 2001. Jennifer Satler, 35, of North Side, is a trial lawyer who worked in the county public defender's office for 10 years and now spends most of her time as an adjunct professor teaching courses on the law at Pitt. The bar association rated all three "not recommended at this time."
While Judge Marmo and Ms. Bush are good candidates -- both rated "recommended" by the bar -- the Post-Gazette can't look past the top tier, Daniel J. Konieczka Jr. and Alexander P. Bicket, who have our endorsement.