10 seek four judge nominations

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There will be 10 people vying for just four openings on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas during the May 15 primary election.

But the county Republican Committee is encouraging its voters to cast ballots for just one judicial candidate -- the only true Republican running in the race.

"I think it is difficult for the average voter to know who the candidate is," said Ken Presutti, executive director of the committee.

That's because all but one of those candidates have cross-filed as both Democrats and Republicans, which is typical in elections for judgeships.

The cross-filed Democratic candidates are: Kelly Eileen Bigley, Cathleen Bubash, Arnie Klein, Michael E. McCarthy, Jack McVay, Kathleen Miskovich, Wrenna Leigh Watson and Joseph Williams.

The only cross-filed Republican candidate is Joe Weinroth.

Shirley Novak, who is listed on the Democratic ticket, did not cross-file.

Mr. Presutti believes that committee endorsements are important to inform the public who the true party candidate is when everyone is cross-filed.

Further, he said, the Republican has a better chance of finishing in the top four if party electors don't dilute their votes by casting ballots for three Democratic candidates, as well.

"Republicans should only endorse those who are registered Republican," Mr. Presutti said.

That's why the committee has only endorsed Mr. Weinroth, even though there are four judgeships available.

G. Terry Madonna, a public affairs professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, called endorsements for judicial races "modestly important."

"The endorsement matters with the big proviso -- that [the committee members] get off their butts and work," Mr. Madonna said.

Which is exactly what Jim Burn, the chair of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, has said his members are doing this year.

"The officials and Democratic leaders envision the party being pro-active to friends and neighbors to engage them about who the candidates are and why we endorse them," Mr. Burn said.

The biggest considerations for endorsement in the judicial race, he continued, were the candidates' reputation and experience in the legal community.

Mr. Burn believes endorsements are more important now than in recent years.

But Mr. Madonna said that it becomes more difficult for endorsements to carry a lot of weight when a low voter turnout is expected.

Without having a major primary for either the Pittsburgh mayor, or county chief executive, Mr. Madonna expects even fewer voters.

Besides endorsements, he said, other contributors to a candidate's success can be as simple as ethnicity or name recognition.

In this year's judicial race, the Democratic party has endorsed Mr. McVay, Ms. Watson, Mr. Klein and Mr. McCarthy.

The Judiciary Committee of the Allegheny County Bar Association also has issued its ratings on the candidates.

The only one to receive the top rating, "Highly recommended," is Mr. McVay, 50, of the North Side. He is a 1984 Duquesne University School of Law graduate and an assistant Allegheny County solicitor. His main area of practice is child and family welfare law.

Those who received "recommended" ratings include:

Ms. Bubash, 47, of the North Side's Mexican War Streets, who graduated from Duquesne law in 1985. She has been a district judge since 2000.

Mr. Klein, 45, of Upper St. Clair. He is a partner at Bacharach & Klein and practices in several areas including personal injury, criminal defense and elder law. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1986.

Mr. McCarthy, 57, of Ross. He is a hearing master for the Allegheny County Board of Viewers, hearing eminent domain and tax appeal cases. He graduated from Duquesne law in 1984.

Ms. Novak, 49, of McCandless. She graduated from Duquesne Law in 1983 and is a sole practitioner of family, criminal and civil law.

Ms. Watson, 53, of Hill District. She is a 1991 graduate of Duquesne Law, works in a variety of municipal positions, such as solicitor for the county controller, and runs a general practice.

Mr. Williams, 55, of Penn Hills. He graduated from Duquesne Law in 1985 and focuses his practice primarily on criminal defense.

Those rated "not recommended" include:

Ms. Bigley, 40, of Upper St. Clair, graduated from Duquesne Law in 1994. Ms. Bigley has a solo practice in which she focuses on criminal and family law.

Ms. Miskovich, 50, of Richland, graduated from Duquesne Law in 1989. She works as a county public defender and has a private, general law practice.

The committee has not yet rated Mr. Weinroth, 48, of Squirrel Hill. He graduated from Pitt law school in 1983 and runs a general practice with an emphasis in real estate.

Paula Reed Ward can be reached at pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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