Voters selected candidates for two judge seats in Washington County and one seat in Westmoreland County in Tuesday's primary.
Despite a crowded race for two open seats in the Washington County Common Pleas Court, two front-runners appeared to edge out a pack of challengers to capture nominations from both parties.
Longtime county Assistant District Attorney Michael J. Lucas and Cecil District Judge Valarie Costanzo are virtually assured seats on the bench after being poised to snatch nominations from both parties.
Eight local lawyers each cross-filed in the race, made necessary after the unexpected retirements last year of Judges Janet Bell and Paul Pozonsky.
Considered front-runners early on, the pair of registered Democrats teetered between first and second place most of the night. As the night wore on, Judge Costanzo pulled ahead, securing more votes from each party than any other candidate.
Mr. Lucas, 45, of Carroll had perhaps the highest public profile among the candidates, having served as the chief prosecutor for three district attorneys, including current officeholder Eugene Vittone.
Judge Costanzo was the only candidate who had worked in the judiciary as an elected official. She has served as a district judge for 14 years and touted her experience with all types of criminal and civil cases, from homicides to landlord/tenant disputes.
Though former Washington city solicitor Lane M. Turturice, 40, of South Strabane stayed competitive in the Republican race as the results began trickling in, it didn't appear to be enough to earn him a spot on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Two candidates from each party were to face off in the Nov. 5 general election. But, the election of Judge Costanzo and Mr. Lucas will be assured unless write-in candidates emerge to defeat them or either drops out of the race.
-- Staff writer Janice Crompton
Attorney Meagan Bilik DeFazio won the Republican nomination for a vacant seat on the Court of Common Pleas, and was leading in the race for the Democratic nomination, according to unofficial election returns.
Mrs. DeFazio was leading on the Democratic ballot with about 20 precincts remaining to be counted, but attorney Bill McCabe was not far behind.
Harry F. Smail Jr. also ran, and all three candidates were cross-filed on both party ballots.
Mrs. DeFazio, 38, of North Huntingdon, and Mr. Smail, 47, of Hempfield, are Republicans. Mr. McCabe, 57, from North Huntingdon is a Democrat.
Mrs. DeFazio has five years of criminal experience in the public defender's office, and a total of 12 years of trial experience. In the last couple of years, she has focused on representing land owners in oil and gas litigation. She ran unsuccessfully for judge in 2009.
Mrs. DeFazio is board vice president of Court Appointed Special Advocates, who protect the rights of abused and neglected children.
She is married with three children, ages 7, 5 and 2.
Mr. McCabe has 32 years of legal experience in the county.
He served as an assistant district attorney for four years before going into private practice, where he has handled family, criminal and municipal trial cases. Mr. McCabe was a Pennsylvania "Super Lawyer" for 2013, and 88 percent of the county's attorneys recommended him in a recent Westmoreland County Bar Association survey.
He is married with two grown children.
The vacancy on the 11-member court was created when Judge John Driscoll, of the family division, was forced to retire at age 70 last year under an amendment to the state's constitution.
Mr. Driscoll and several other judges in the state, however, are challenging that mandatory retirement age as discriminatory in both state and federal courts. The state's Commonwealth Court heard arguments on three lawsuits earlier this month.
Turnout at the polls was light. Elections Bureau director Jim Montini had predicted a turnout as low as 20 percent of those eligible to vote.