Six candidates are in the running to fill four Allegheny County judicial vacancies

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Six candidates are vying for four open seats on Allegheny County Common Pleas Court in next month's general election.

The term runs for 10 years and pays $173,271 annually. Currently in Allegheny County, known as the Fifth Judicial District of Pennsylvania, there are 50 judges on the bench, divided among four divisions: civil, criminal, family and orphan's.

The candidates this year include two people already serving appointments in the Family Division; one on leave from work as a prosecutor in the district attorney's office; one who works for the state's adoption network; and two in private practice.

Here are the candidates as their names appear on the ballot.

Bill Ward

Current position: judge, Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, Family Division

Age: 61

Family: wife, two children

Home: Mt. Lebanon

Education: undergraduate, College of the Holy Cross, 1973; law school, Temple University, 1977

Bar Association rating: highly recommended

Judge Ward was appointed by Gov. Tom Corbett to fill a vacancy on Common Pleas Court in June 2012. Prior to that, he served as the governor's chief of staff.

Judge Ward won on the Republican ticket during this year's primary.

With a varied legal career that included stints as a law clerk, prosecutor, defense attorney and chair of the state Board of Probation and Parole, Judge Ward always wanted to be on the bench.

"I bring a skill toward the resolution of conflict," he said. "My better strength is to be able to listen to both sides fairly and achieve an amicable resolution through mediation."

As far as his candidacy is concerned, Judge Ward said it's his work on the bench with children, families and veterans that sets him apart.

Like many newly appointed judges, Judge Ward serves in the Family Division, splitting his caseload among juvenile dependency and delinquency and adult custody, divorce and child support.

He also serves in the Criminal Division as a judge in Veterans Court. He volunteered for the position in part because he saw from his nephew, who served in Afghanistan, some of the issues he faced.

Mark V. Tranquilli

Current position: on leave from Allegheny County district attorney's office, where he is deputy in charge of the homicide unit

Age: 46

Family: wife, three children

Home: Upper St. Clair

Education: undergraduate, Allegheny College, 1989; law school, University of Pittsburgh, 1992

Bar Association rating: highly recommended

Mr. Tranquilli, who has served 20 years as a prosecutor, won on both the Republican and Democratic tickets during the primary election.

Because of his experience as a trial lawyer, Mr. Tranquilli said, he is especially well-suited to make quick and informed legal decisions.

"If you look at all the candidates, far and away, I have more trial experience than any of the other five people," he said. "To be a trial judge, you first need to be a trial attorney."

He also believes that his background in criminal court -- in seeing what happens with the proliferation of guns and drugs among young people -- would serve him especially well if he is appointed to the Family Division if elected.

"I'm uniquely situated to separate those kids for whom there's still hope from those who are too far down the road and cannot be rehabilitated," he said.

Mr. Tranquilli also serves on the board of the Center for Victims.

Paul E. Cozza

Current position: Judge, Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, Family Division

Age: 53

Family: wife, two children

Home: Baldwin Township

Education: undergraduate, Duquesne University, 1982; law school, Duquesne, 1990

Bar Association rating: recommended

Judge Cozza previously served as a special master on the county Board of Viewers and in the summer of 2011 was appointed by Mr. Corbett to fill a vacancy on Common Pleas Court.

Judge Cozza won on both the Republican and Democratic tickets in the primary election. Before joining the Board of Viewers, he was in private practice.

According to Judge Cozza's campaign website, he worked his way through college and law school while serving as a delivery driver for the Post-Gazette.

Judge Cozza also said on his site that he pledges to remain in the Family Division if elected to a full term on the bench "because he is committed to protecting the welfare of children."

He did not respond to multiple messages left for him.

P.J. Murray

Current position: partner with Pittsburgh office of Dinsmore & Shohl

Age: 52

Family: wife, three children

Home: Upper St. Clair

Education: undergraduate, Pitt, 1985; law school, Duquesne, 1988

Bar Association rating: recommended

Mr. Murray practices in complex civil litigation, with a specialty in employment discrimination, construction defects, trade secrets and unfair competition.

He won on the Republican ticket in the May primary.

Among the reasons he cites for wanting to be a Common Pleas judge are his ability to solve problems and resolve conflict.

"The trial judge is perhaps the most important position in our system of justice," he said. "That's where I want to be. I feel very comfortable in not only using my legal experience, but life experience, judgment and empathy to make the right decisions."

Mr. Murray, who was selected for inclusion in the 2014 edition of The Best Lawyers in America, also currently serves on the state Supreme Court's Disciplinary Board.

"I think it's very important. Being part of that board helps you appreciate that good people fall off the tracks now and again," he said. "It's necessary for lawyers to serve on those boards to make sure the ethical rules of our profession are upheld."

Jennifer Satler

Current position: private practice, focusing on criminal defense

Age: 38

Family: husband, son

Home: North Side

Education: undergraduate, Bryn Mawr College, 1997; law school, Pitt, 2000

Bar Association rating: not recommended at this time

Ms. Satler has been in private practice since leaving the Allegheny County public defender's office, where she served from 2001 to 2007.

Ms. Satler won on the Democratic ticket in the primary.

She believes her youth can serve her well on the bench.

"I'd like to think I'm a good investment in the future of our judiciary," she said. "I bring a unique and younger perspective to the court."

Ms. Satler said her experience as a trial attorney is valuable. Among her goals would be to minimize postponements and help cut down on court overtime costs.

But more than that, she believes that being a judge is a way to serve people.

"[Being in a courtroom] is undoubtedly one of the most stressful events in [someone's] life. We are there to make the process as painless as possible."

Ms. Satler has spent 13 years directing the mock trial program for undergraduate students at Pitt and with the law school since 2007.

Eleanor Bush

Current position: Legal training division manager, Pennsylvania Statewide Adoption & Permanency Network

Age: 53

Family: husband, two children

Home: Squirrel Hill

Education: undergraduate, Yale, 1982; law school, Yale, 1988

Bar Association rating: highly recommended

Ms. Bush has spent her 25-year legal career serving children and families and won on the Democratic ticket during the primary.

If elected, she hopes she would be assigned to the Family Division.

Although she could not explain what first piqued her interest in the field, Ms. Bush could say why she's kept at it.

"There is so much opportunity for children's and families' lives to change for the better because of what happens in court," she said.

Although it doesn't happen in every case, Ms. Bush said, "there are enough situations where they do that I find it incredibly rewarding and gratifying to play some role in that."

An example of that, she said, is a case she handled while working for the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia.

She represented a little boy with significant medical needs who never lived a day with his birth parents.

At age 5, the boy's foster parents wanted to adopt him, and all parties agreed they were the perfect fit. But, Ms. Bush said, because of the procedures in place in juvenile court at the time, the process took seven years.

"I used that experience to help reform the process so other children and families would not have to live through this insane limbo," she said.

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Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard. First Published October 20, 2013 8:00 PM


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