2 empty Commonwealth Court seats draw bunch of candidates

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HARRISBURG -- Commonwealth Court usually flies below the public radar, even though it deals with notable issues such as land use, the environment and financial aid for injured workers.

But the court has attracted much interest from both Democrats and Republicans this spring, as eight lawyers and one judge compete for two available seats on the nine-member appellate court.

Six Democrats and three Republicans are vying for their party's nomination in the May 19 primary. The two winning candidates from each party will compete in November, and the two winners in those contests will take office in January.

Commonwealth Court is, among lawyers at least, called the "People's Court." It hears a wide range of cases, such as eminent domain, in which a government wants to take private land; disputes over elections, municipal law, zoning, historic preservation and the environment; banking and insurance; and regulatory issues and public utilities.

It was the first legal arena where challenges to the 2005 legislative pay raise were brought. About a quarter of its cases involve disputes over unemployment compensation, for people who have lost jobs, and workers compensation, for workers hurt on the job.

Republican candidates

Kevin Brobson, 38, is a Harrisburg attorney who works for the Pittsburgh-based firm of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney. He received the Republican State Committee's endorsement, as did attorney Al Frioni. Mr. Brobson said he has much experience practicing in front of Commonwealth Court and dealing with its issues. He is on the Middle Paxton Township Planning Commission and is past chairman of Jump Street, a nonprofit community arts group. He is a past recipient of awards from "Lawyers on the Fast Track" and "Forty Under 40." His Web site is brobson4judge.com.

Al Frioni, 46, is a Mt. Lebanon attorney and longtime member of the state workers' compensation hearing board. He was on the panel from 1996 until resigning earlier this year to run for the appeals court. He also was an aide to the late U.S. Sen. John Heinz, who died in 1991. Mr. Frioni has also been in-house counsel to the Travelers Insurance Co. and an attorney with the U.S. Department of Labor. He said he's had much experience in dealing with workers' comp cases because of his long tenure on the compensation board. In his time there, he wrote more than 3,500 decisions. His Web site is alforjudge.com.

Patricia McCullough, 52, of Upper St. Clair, has been an attorney for 28 years. She served as an Allegheny County Common Pleas judge for most of 2005 but lost an election for a full 10-year term. In 2006-07 she was executive director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Pittsburgh. She has also been treasurer of the Allegheny County Republican Committee and was a member and chair of the county's Board of Property Appeals, hearing thousands of appeals over four years. She also was assistant general counsel for the University of Pittsburgh for nine years. Her husband is Allegheny County Councilman Charles McCullough. Her e-mail address is pattmc@comcast.net.

Democratic candidates

Dan Bricmont, 44, is an attorney in Pittsburgh and served as mayor of Avalon from 1993 to 2005. He sought to improve Avalon's property maintenance code and "redd up" the town. Mr. Bricmont has handled many state, municipal and utility issues. He is on Allegheny County's air pollution control advisory committee, part of the Health Department. He also has a lot of experience with workers' comp and unemployment comp cases. The Democratic State Committee has endorsed him for the court. His Web site is bricmontforjudge.com.

Barbara Ernsberger, 57, was the first female chair of the Pittsburgh Democratic Committee, serving for eight years, but she resigned to run for the court. She also sits on the city planning commission, where she has dealt with major projects such as the city's casino, the new hockey arena and the August Wilson Center for African-American Culture. She said she, too, has much experience with Commonwealth Court issues, such as workers' comp, unemployment comp and zoning and land use. Her Web site is ernsbergerforjudge.com.

Linda Judson, 50, is a Downtown attorney and has been on the Pittsburgh Parking Authority for four years. She's worked to increase the amount of parking in Pittsburgh and boost the city's economy. Working on the authority has given her experience in land use and zoning, issues that come before the appellate court, she said. Much of her legal practice involves workplace safety and workers' compensation cases, and she has represented both employers and injured workers. She also has a nursing license and worked as a nurse to put herself through college. Her Web site is judsonforjudge.com.

Jimmy Lynn, 61, has been on Philadelphia Common Pleas Court since 1991. He's been a lawyer for 36 years and is the only sitting judge among the nine candidates. He said his experience as a trial judge would serve him well on the appellate court. Before becoming a judge, he worked for two different Philadelphia law firms and the Philadelphia district attorney's office. He's past president and was, for years, the announcer for the St. Patrick's Day parade in Philadelphia, and is also an adjunct professor of legal studies at Temple University. He and Mr. Bricmont are the two candidates who won the endorsement for Commonwealth Court from the Democratic State Committee. His Web site is judgejimmylynn.com.

Stephen Pollock, 57, is a Philadelphia attorney. He has 32 years of experience practicing law in such areas as land use development, enforcement of municipal codes, workers' comp and eminent domain. He's chairman of the Lower Moreland Planning Commission in suburban Philadelphia, a member of the Pennsylvania State Planning Board and former head of the trustees for Huntingdon Valley library. He has extensive knowledge of zoning and of a citizens' rights to use their property, according to his Web site, pollockforthecommonwealth.com.

Michael D. Sherman, 52, is an attorney who lives in Mt. Lebanon. He has specialized in workers' compensation cases for 25 years. He has managed his Downtown law firm, Fried Kane & Walters, for 10 years and said he's at the point where making his first run for judge "is the next logical step in my career." He has been on the board of directors of Mt. Lebanon Extended Day Care for three years and is a volunteer for the Susan Komen Race for the Cure. His Web site is shermanforjudge09.com.


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


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