Court of approval: Five deserve nominations for Common Pleas

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This is the first in a series of endorsement editorials on contested races in the May 21 primary. They will culminate in a recap of the Post-Gazette's recommendations on Sunday, May 19.

Although most of the attention in the spring primary is on Pittsburgh's contest for mayor, only a minority of Allegheny County voters will be able to nominate a candidate in that race. All county voters, however, will elect four new judges this year to Common Pleas Court, important jobs that have a direct impact on all residents, whether in the city or the suburbs.

Trouble is, voters don't give much thought to judicial elections. They should -- 13 candidates are seeking nominations May 21 and most are crossfiled for the nods of both major parties, as permitted by law. After interviewing all the contenders, the Post-Gazette editorial board recommends these candidates for nomination:

On the Democratic ballot, Bill Ward, Mark Tranquilli, Eleanor Bush and Rosemary Crawford.

On the Republican side, Bill Ward, Mark Tranquilli, Eleanor Bush and Patrick Connelly. (Ms. Crawford is not seeking the GOP nomination.)

Bill Ward, 61, has been a judge in the court's Family Division for 10 months and has also served in the Criminal Division's veterans court. Last year he was appointed by Gov. Tom Corbett and approved by the Legislature along with several others to fill judicial vacancies across the state. Mr. Ward, who was the governor's chief of staff, has considerable experience in other posts that argue for keeping him on the bench.

A lawyer for 35 years in public and private practice, Mr. Ward, of Mt. Lebanon, was an assistant U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. He was first assistant attorney general under state Attorney General Corbett; chairman of the state Board of Probation and Parole under Govs. Tom Ridge, Mark Schweiker and Ed Rendell; and a member of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

Mark Tranquilli, who will turn 46 on Friday, has been a prosecutor in the county district attorney's office for 19 years. He handled general trials until he was promoted to the robbery unit in 1998. In 2000 he was one of two lawyers to staff the homicide unit, which he has supervised for the last eight years.

As a prosecutor, Mr. Tranquilli, of Upper St. Clair, has obtained convictions against notorious offenders: Leslie Mollett for the murder of state police Cpl. Joseph Pokorny; William Page in the molestation of his infant daughter, who was left outside to freeze to death; and Richard Poplawski, who killed three Pittsburgh police officers.

Eleanor Bush, 53, is a child welfare attorney who since 2005 has managed the legal training, under the Pennsylvania Statewide Adoption Network, for more than 140 paralegals serving as children's advocates for counties across the state. Ms. Bush, of Squirrel Hill, previously was legal director of KidsVoice in Pittsburgh, where she supervised 18 attorneys who represented 5,000 children in Allegheny County who had been abused or neglected.

In 1993-2001 she was a staff attorney with the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia. Her first job after Yale Law School was as assistant counsel for the state Department of Education during the Casey administration, where, among other cases, she successfully argued the state's right to decertify teachers who were convicted of inappropriate relationships with students.

Rosemary Crawford, 49, has been an attorney for 23 years. After her graduation from Georgetown University law school, she became a tax attorney in the District of Columbia, then moved into civil litigation. As a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, she was successful in handling vaccine litigation cases. After moving to Pittsburgh, she worked for several law firms and for the last 10 years she has been a Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee for U.S. District Court, where she presides over complex liquidation cases involving individuals primarily and some corporations.

Ms. Crawford, of Hampton, has been an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh law school and has taught at Community College of Allegheny County. She is certified both as a mediator and an arbitrator, was the director of legal resources for the YWCA and provided pro bono counsel in protection-from-abuse cases.

Patrick Connelly, 45, is a trial lawyer in his 19th year, with the bulk of his work in civil litigation. A partner with the Downtown firm of Summers, McDonnell, Hudock, Guthrie & Skeel, he represents individuals, small businesses, corporations and municipalities. Mr. Connelly has been lead counsel in about 50 jury trials and managed appeals at every level in Pennsylvania. He has also handled bench trials and arbitration hearings and been appointed by the court as an arbitrator to resolve civil disputes.

Mr. Connelly, of Shadyside, is a member of the city's Ethics Hearing Board and solicitor for the Pittsburgh St. Patrick's Day Parade. He has done extensive pro bono work for the Ireland Institute of Pittsburgh and works with youth in the city schools' Be a Sixth Grade Mentor program.

The Allegheny County Bar Association rated Bill Ward, Mark Tranquilli, Eleanor Bush and Rosemary Crawford "highly recommended" for Common Pleas Court. Patrick Connelly was rated "recommended."

Democratic and Republican voters could do no better than to nominate them for judge on May 21.

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