Only one of the three judge candidates running in the May 21 primary -- Bill McCabe -- has been recommended by a majority of Westmoreland County Bar Association attorneys.
Mr. McCabe got a vote of confidence from 88 percent of 220 attorneys who returned their surveys, according to the bar association. Meagan Bilik DeFazio was recommended by 36 percent of the attorneys and Harry F. Smail Jr. by 22 percent.
Attorneys were asked to rate the judge candidates by picking: recommended, not recommended, or no opinion.
One seat on the Court of Common Pleas is up for election this year. All three candidates are cross-filed and will appear on both the Republican and Democratic ballots. Mr. McCabe is a registered Democrat, and Mrs. DeFazio and Mr. Smail are registered Republicans.
A Common Pleas Court judge is elected to a 10-year term, and makes $173,000 a year.
"I am both proud and humbled by the support and confidence shown by my colleagues as reflected in the just released results of the Westmoreland County Bar Association Judicial Poll of its attorney members," Mr. McCabe said.
The bar association asked its 378 participating members to rate the candidates in its survey, and nearly 60 percent responded by mail. The Greensburg accounting firm of Delisi, Keenan & Associates tabulated the results. Participating members of the bar either practice or live in Westmoreland County.
Here are the vote totals for each candidate:
Mr. McCabe: 194 votes (88 percent) to recommend; 8 votes (4 percent) not recommended; and 18 votes (8 percent) no opinion.
Mrs. DeFazio: 80 votes (36 percent) recommended; 66 votes (30 percent) not recommended; 74 votes (34 percent) no opinion.
Mr. Smail: 48 votes (22 percent) recommended; 127 votes (58 percent) not recommended; 45 votes (20 percent) no opinion.
Mrs. DeFazio noted of those attorneys who had an opinion on her, a majority recommended her.
"I am proud that a majority who were familiar with me recommended me," she said.
She noted Mr. McCabe is a good lawyer, but the open position on the court is a family court judge, so it will require more than just trial experience.
"I bring an energy and passion for children, and there are programs for children that need to be expanded," she said.
Mr. Smail, in a written response, said, "When your first priority in a legal matter is protecting the rights of your clients, you will incite contention in the opposing counsel."
In addition, he questioned whether politics didn't affect the survey results.
"It is widely recognized that there is a great desire to maintain the status quo in political organizations, and being comprised of lawyers, the bar association is definitely a political organization," he said. So with a little more than half the bar membership voting, he said, "It does not surprise me that the results skewed to support the Democrat candidate."
He also noted that the bar association members voted a month ago to unanimously elect him vice president.
John Greiner, president of the bar association, said the organization does not endorse judge candidates, but hopes the attorney survey, which the bar has done for the last few judicial races, will help voters.
"We were pleased with the level of response to the survey by our members," Mr. Greiner said.
Here are the backgrounds of the three candidates:
• Mr. McCabe, 57, of North Huntingdon, has been a practicing litigation attorney in Greensburg for 32 years, with experience in criminal and civil cases and federal court. He was an assistant district attorney under District Attorney John Driscoll for four years, before joining the law firm of DeBernardo, Antoniono, McCabe, Davis and DeDiana. He is married with two grown children.
• Mr. Smail, 47, of Hempfield, is making his second bid for a seat on the bench. He has a private practice and has 16 years of litigation experience, focusing on criminal, family and civil cases. He ran for judge in 2009 and he also ran for register of wills in 1997, clerk of courts in 2001 and for county commissioner in 2003. He is married with two children, ages 21 and 5.
• Mrs. DeFazio, 38, of North Huntingdon, has 13 years in practice and is a partner with the firm of Loughran, Mlakar and Bilik. She has five years of criminal experience in the public defender's office, and a total of 12 years of trial experience. In the last couple of years, she has focused on representing land owners in oil and gas litigation. She also ran unsuccessfully for judge in 2009. She is married with three children, ages 7, 5 and 2.
Debra Duncan, freelance writer: email@example.com.