Dwayne Woodruff kicks off campaign for state Supreme Court
February 16, 2017 12:00 AM
Art Rooney II and Mel Blount applaud Common Pleas Judge Dwayne Woodruff as he waves to supporters after announcing his bid for the state Supreme Court on Wednesday in the courtyard of the Allegheny County Courthouse.
The Pennsylvania State Democratic Party unanimously endorsed Dwayne Woodruff as its first male African-American Supreme Court candidate in a statewide race.
By Chris Potter / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Wearing a black suit and a gold tie, flanked by former Steelers teammates and leading Allegheny County officials, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Dwayne Woodruff officially kicked off his campaign Wednesday for the state Supreme Court.
“When I came in 1979, we formed a special relationship,” Judge Woodruff, a defensive back who played in Super Bowl XIV in 1980, told supporters at the Allegheny County Courthouse. “If I did the things that I’m supposed to do, every Sunday you showed up. [And] here we are again …ready to embark on another adventure.
“I want to be your seat at the table as a Supreme Court justice.”
Judge Woodruff, who studied law at Duquesne University while playing for the Steelers from 1979 through 1990, has served as a Common Pleas judge, mostly in the family division, since 2005. He has pressed for judicial education standards within the county, and has taken part in statewide juvenile-justice commissions. The state Bar Association, which has given him a “recommended” rating, hailed his “strong work ethic and ... deep respect for his role as a trial judge.”
“He’s a phenomenal jurist and he’s amazing with kids,” said Judy Horgan, a supporter who has often been in Judge Woodruff’s courtroom as a child advocate.
Court rulings “shape everything that happens to us on the local level,” said Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who joined Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Steelers president Art Rooney II and former Steeler Mel Blount at the event.
Mr. Peduto hailed Judge Woodruff as “somebody who’s been part of this community for decades [and] has proven himself at every step.”
Judge Woodruff sought one of three Supreme Court seats available in 2015. He finished fifth in a field of six Democrats competing in the primary, though he placed in the top three in Allegheny and nearby counties.
While this year’s primary fight will be much easier — no other Democrat has stepped forward — winning in November may be challenging.
Democrats swept the seats in 2015, when a Philadelphia mayoral race boosted Democratic turnout, and Philadelphia unions and trial lawyers helped a slate that included Kevin Dougherty, whose brother is an influential labor leader there.
This year, Judge Woodruff will likely face Republican Sallie Updyke Mundy, a onetime trial lawyer and Superior Court judge who was appointed by Gov. Tom Wolf to temporarily fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by Michael Eakin, a Republican who stepped down amid the state’s so-called Porngate scandal. Justice Mundy received the bar association’s “highly recommended” rating.
If he wins the seat, Judge Woodruff would be only the the second African-American in state history to be elected to the Supreme Court. The first, Robert N.C. Nix, was elected in 1967; two other black justices, Juanita Kidd Stout and Cynthia Baldwin, were appointed to fill out vacancies.
The court “should be diverse and reflective of the constituency it serves,” said Judge Woodruff.
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