Pennsylvania Supreme Court: McCaffery wins; Todd jumps to lead in top court races

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HARRISBURG -- Superior Court Judge Seamus McCaffery, a Democrat and a former Philadelphia police officer, won a seat on the state Supreme Court in yesterday's election.

His Democratic running mate, Superior Court Judge Debra Todd, was hoping to join him in victory lane, but early this morning she was just narrowly ahead of one of her Republican challengers, Superior Court Judge Maureen Lally-Green.

The two Democratic candidates jumped ahead early last night. Judge McCaffery led throughout the night, with Judge Todd in second place. But she was forced to keep looking over her shoulder at Judge Lally-Green, who crept closer and closer as the night wore on and the more conservative, rural parts of the state weighed in with their tallies.

In last place was Republican Mike Krancer, 49, a judge with the state's Environmental Hearing Board, who appeared to be out of the race.

Judge McCaffery, 57, won with 30 percent of the vote. Early this morning Judge Todd had 26 percent and Judge Lally-Green had 24 percent, with 93 percent of the votes counted. One of the larger counties, Lackawanna, was late in finishing its count.

Asked about the election results, Judge McCaffery quipped, "Not bad for a poor immigrant." He came to America at age 5 from Belfast, Northern Ireland, with his family and spent 20 years as a Philadelphia police officer while going to law school at night.

"I think my victory, quite candidly, is connected to the fact that Democrats, Republicans and independents felt a strong tie to me," he said. "My profile is not typical. I have a strong military background and a strong law enforcement background. I'm a no-nonsense individual. I take the term public servant to heart. I work for the people, they don't work for me."

As a Philadelphia municipal judge, he created "Eagles Court" at the old Veterans Stadium, where drunken or unruly fans were arraigned immediately during a game. Judge McCaffery called it "Have gavel, will travel."

Judge Todd, 50, is a former lawyer for U.S. Steel. Judge Lally-Green, 58, is a former Duquesne University Law School professor. They both live in Cranberry.

The state's two largest Democratic strongholds, Allegheny and Philadelphia counties, came through for the two Democratic candidates, as they both piled up impressive margins early.

Judge McCaffery "is crushing [the opposition] in Philadelphia," said his campaign manager and wife, Lise Rapaport.

It was also a good night for current Supreme Court Justice Thomas Saylor, as he easily won a retention race for another 10 years on the court. He kept his job by roughly a 2-1 margin.

Some political observers had wondered if Justice Saylor might meet the same fate as former Justice Russell Nigro, who lost his retention race in November 2005 because of voter anger over a controversial pay raise for judges. But it seems that that anger has cooled a bit and voters didn't take it out on Justice Saylor.

He noted in his commercials that he was the only justice to dissent from a September 2006 Supreme Court ruling that the state's 1,000 judges could keep their raises. Former Gov. Tom Ridge made some "robo-calls" to voters in the closing days, urging them to stick with Justice Saylor.

Justice Saylor lives in suburban Harrisburg, but he originally comes from Somerset County, where he once was an assistant district attorney.

Josh Wilson, a Saylor aide, said the justice "is gratified that the voters were willing to consider his record of service on the Supreme Court. From a broader perspective, he considers the outcome a victory for the independence of the judiciary."

A group called PA Clean Sweep had urged voters to make their dissatisfaction over the 2005 pay raises known by voting out nearly all the judicial incumbents, but that call appeared to fall on deaf ears.

The two seats on the high court were open this election because one former justice, Sandra Schultz Newman of Philadelphia, resigned late last year, and former Justice Nigro lost his retention bid.


Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at tbarnes@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-4254.


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