4 candidates seek to stay on Supreme, Superior state courts

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Pennsylvania's appellate courts are among the most busy in the country, with the three separate forums -- Commonwealth, Superior and Supreme -- handling a total of 12,120 cases in 2012 alone.

Judges there are elected for 10-year terms, and can run for retention, for additional 10-year terms. The current mandatory retirement age is 70, although there is pending legislation in the state Legislature to raise that age to 75.

There are four jurists from the Superior and Supreme courts running for retention in this year's general election. All were recommended for retention by the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

They include Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, as well as:

Max Baer

Age: 65

Birthplace: Pittsburgh

Education: undergraduate degree, University of Pittsburgh, 1971; law degree, Duquesne University, 1975

Current position: justice, Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Justice Baer started his judicial career on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas in 1990 and served until 2003, when he was elected to the state Supreme Court.

Throughout his legal career, Justice Baer said he has focused his work on supporting children and families. Within three years of joining the state's high court, Justice Baer was able to help institute statewide changes to the system's best practices that have reduced the number of children in foster care in Pennsylvania from more than 21,000 to about 15,000.

"These kids have a chance to grow up rather than be drifting from foster home to foster home until they're 18," he said.

More than that, he said reducing the number of children in foster care also has saved taxpayers some $117 million -- from the sheer expense of placement.

Justice Baer says that the greatest compliment he hears regarding his judicial service is that he's "unpredictable," meaning he's not known to side with any one particular group, like plaintiffs or defendants or the prosecution or defense.

Susan Peikes Gantman

Age: 61

Birthplace: Philadelphia

Education: undergraduate degree, University of Pennsylvania, 1974; law degree, Villanova University, 1977

Current position: judge, Pennsylvania Superior Court

Before being elected to the intermediate appellate court in 2003, Judge Gantman was in private practice.

She stressed the amount of work done by the Superior Court and its importance.

In Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court grants review to only about 5 percent of the appeals filed, Judge Gantman said, which means that 95 percent of the Superior Court's work is the final say in a matter.

One of the things she appreciates most about her work is the role of the Superior Court.

"We are an error-correcting court," she said. "We don't substitute our judgment for the trial court."

Jack A. Panella

Age: 58

Birthplace: Brooklyn, N.Y.

Education: undergraduate degree, St. John's University, 1977; law degree, Catholic University of America, 1980

Current position: judge, Pennsylvania Superior Court

Judge Panella previously served as the chair of the judicial conduct board and as president judge of the Court of Judicial Discipline.

He served as a judge on the Common Pleas Court of Northampton County from 1991 until 2003, when he joined the Superior Court.

He attributes his lengthy judicial career to a love of public service.

"What I like best about my job is that I'm here to make the right decision," Judge Panella said.

Attorneys, he said, have to fulfill their clients' wishes, but as a judge, it's different.

"You just have to sit back and do the right thing. You don't have to worry about who's paying your bill."

Judge Panella also feels like judges need to stay involved in their communities.

He leads programs for Black History Month at Lafayette University, and also has created programs for veterans in which they are shown appreciation for their service by the judiciary.

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

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