Judge who lost election nominated for spot on Common Pleas Court

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A man who lost an election for a 10-year spot on the Allegheny County Common Pleas Court in November was nominated for the same position again Thursday by the governor.

Bill Ward, who served on the bench from June 2012 until January under a previous appointment by Gov. Tom Corbett, must again be confirmed by the state Senate. If confirmed, he would serve until the first Monday of January 2016. His was one of 14 names submitted by the governor for judicial positions across the state.

“I‘‍m honored by the nomination and look forward to returning to the bench,” Mr. Ward said.

He was praised by Jay Pagni, a spokesman for the governor, for his former work on the court involving both family law and veterans’‍ court.

“He has a varied and vast experience,” Mr. Pagni said. “He has served the people of Pennsylvania with distinction and is a highly qualified public servant.”

Mr. Ward, 62, of Mt. Lebanon previously served as the governor's chief of staff and as chair of the state Board of Probation and Parole.

Although he earned the Allegheny County Bar Association's "highly recommended" rating for one of four open seats in the November general election, Mr. Ward, who is a Republican, lost the race.

Lynn Marks, the executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said that even though the nomination could look like it‘‍s going against the will of the voters, that’‍s not necessarily so.

She noted that judicial races are often decided on factors other than qualifications, including the amount of money raised; name recognition; ballot placement and political party.

“Just because someone loses doesn’t mean that person wouldn’t make a good judge,” Ms. Marks said.

Had Mr. Ward already been on the bench and lost in a yes-or-no retention race, she continued, such a nomination would look bad.

“This is different,” she said. “It wasn‘‍t like he was personally defeated by the people.

”That’‍s an important distinction.“

Bruce Ledewitz, a professor at Duquesne Law School, said the governor‘‍s obligation is to appoint the person, in his judgment, who best will fill the position.

“It doesn‘‍t have to conform with the will of the voters,” Mr. Ledewitz said. “The fundamental question for the governor is: What kind of judge will he be?

”The governor‘‍s obligation is to the people of Pennsylvania -- not to agree with the people of Pennsylvania.“

Allegheny County has 43 seats on the common pleas bench. The opening for Mr. Ward comes from the retirement of Judge Joseph James, who left in 2013, according to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard. First Published June 20, 2014 12:00 AM

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