In a bipartisan show of respect, the Pennsylvania General Assembly paid tribute last week to District Judge Robert C. Wyda, who died Aug. 5 at his Bethel Park home.
State Sen. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, joined Reps. John Maher, R-Upper St. Clair, and Dan Miller, D-Mt. Lebanon, in sponsoring condolence resolutions to honor his memory.
"Judge Wyda left behind a legacy of doing what's right, administering the law in a fair manner, and helping to improve the lives of the individuals who stood before his bench," said Mr. Smith.
The Senate and House resolutions acknowledge Wyda's service as district judge for Bethel Park and Upper St. Clair, starting in 2000. He also served as an assistant district attorney and assistant court administer, and was a commander in the Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps.
"His reputation as a fair and decent judge doesn't adequately reflect his contribution to the bench or his contribution to his community," Mr. Miller said. "His work made a difference in people's lives, and he will be deeply missed."
Filling his post are senior judges on a rotating basis. Eugene L. Zielmanski served through the end of September, and Charles A. McLaughlin Jr. now is hearing cases.
Both are former district judges.
Blaise Larotunda, district judge for the Mt. Lebanon-Dormont magisterial district, filled in shortly after Wyda's death.
The usual process for filling a district judge's vacancy is for the governor to make an appointment, subject to Senate confirmation.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, though, has called for a hold on interim judicial appointments to fill court vacancies because of concerns about funding, according to Art Heinz, communications coordinator for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts. He acknowledged that considerable savings have resulted.
"It doesn't mean citizens of that district are not served by the court," said Mr. Heinz.
The duties often are redistributed among other local district judges. For the Bethel Park-Upper St. Clair district, Allegheny County President Judge Donna Jo McDaniel asked the administrative office to appoint senior judges, who are paid $534 per day under the 2013 update of the Pennsylvania Code. Magisterial district judges earn $86,639 annually.
Senior judges filled in for Wyda when he was on active duty for tours in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay between 2003 and 2008.
His term was set to expire in 2018. Unless the governor's office determines the need for an appointment or special election to fill the position, it likely will remain in its current arrangement until after the results of the 2015 general election, said Matthew Zoccole, Allegheny County deputy court administrator.
Harry Funk, freelance writer: email@example.com