November 8, 2017

By: Dennis Whitaker

We provided previews of the judicial candidate forums for the Supreme Court, Commonwealth Court and Superior Court, live tweeted the forums and followed up with summaries of the questions and answers from each. We now close the loop with a summary of yesterday’s election results and the composition of the courts beginning in January 2018.

A total of seven seats were up for election, one the Supreme Court, two on Commonwealth Court and four on Superior Court. The Supreme Court vacancy was created when Justice J. Michael Eakin (R) left the bench in 2016. Superior Court Judge Sallie Mundy (R) was nominated by Governor Wolf and confirmed by the Senate to serve until the next municipal election year (2017). On Commonwealth Court, the seats opened when Judge Dan Pellegrini (D) and Judge Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter (R) took senior judge status at the end of 2016. Governor Wolf appointed Joseph Cosgrove (D) and Julia Hearthway (R) to fill the vacancies. Judge Cosgrove was unsuccessful in seeking his party’s nomination for a full term in the May primary elections and Judge Hearthway elected not to run for a full term. The open seats on Superior Court occurred with the retirement of Judge Cheryl Lynn Allen (R), the election of Judges Christine Donohue (D) and David Wecht (D) to the Supreme Court in 2015, and the appointment by Governor Wolf of Judge Sallie Mundy (R) to the Supreme Court seat vacated by former Justice J. Michael Eakin. Governor Wolf appointed Carl Solano (R) to replace Judge Allen, and H. Geoffrey Moulton, Jr. (D) and Lillian Harris Ransom (D) to replace former judges Donohue and Wecht. Mr. Solano and Ms. Ransom did not seek the nomination of their parties for a full term.

Supreme Court

Two candidates, one Democrat and one Republican, ran for the single open seat on the Supreme Court.  Justice Mundy received the Republican party’s nomination in 2017.  Judge Dwayne Woodruff (D) of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, received the Democratic party’s nomination.

With 99 plus percent of precincts reporting, Justice Mundy defeated Judge Woodruff by just under one-million votes. Also, the voters retained both Chief Justice Saylor and Justice Todd by wide margins. The pre-election composition of justices on the Supreme Court was five Democrats and two Republicans, so the balance remained the same after this election.

Commonwealth Court

Four candidates, two Democrats and two Republicans, ran for the two open seats on Commonwealth Court. The candidates were: Christine Fizzano Cannon (R), currently a judge on the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas; Ellen Ceisler (D), currently a judge on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas; Irene Clark (D), a former Pittsburgh Municipal Court Judge; and, Paul Lally (R), an attorney in private practice.

With 99 plus percent of precincts reporting, Judges Fizzano Cannon and Ceisler are the two candidates receiving the most votes. Judge Fizzano Cannon received 25.83 percent of the votes cast and Judge Ceisler received 25.64 percent, out pacing Ms. Clark (24.86%) and Mr. Lally (23.68%). The composition of commissioned judges on Commonwealth Court as of January 2018 will be seven Republicans and two Democrats, which was the composition prior to Judges Pellegrini and Leadbetter electing Senior status.

Superior Court

Nine candidates, four Democrats, four Republicans and one from the Green party, ran for the four open seats. The Democratic candidates were Judge Moulton, Judge Carolyn H. Nichols of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, Judge Maria McLaughlin also of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and Judge Deborah A. Kunselman of the Beaver County Court of Common Pleas. The Republican candidates were Craig Stedman, currently District Attorney of Lancaster County, Judge Wade Kagarise of the Blair County Court of Common Pleas, Judge Emil A. Giordano of the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas and Mary P. Murray, Magisterial District Judge (District 05-2-25) in Allegheny County. The Green Party candidate was attorney Jules Mermelstein of Upper Dublin, Montgomery County.

With 99 plus percent of precincts reporting, Judge McLaughlin (14.09%), Judge Kunselman (13.61%), Judge Nichols (12.78%) and MDJ Murray (12.01%) were the top vote getters, out pacing Mr. Stedman (11.95%), Judge Moulton (11.65%), Judge Giordano (11.58%), Judge Kagarise (10.92%) and Mr. Mermelstein (1.4%). In addition, Judge Shogan was retained by a large margin.

As of election day, the composition of commissioned Judges on the court stands at seven Republicans and four Democrats. With yesterday’s results, as of January 2018, Republicans will hold an 8-7 majority of the commissioned judgeships.

About the Author:

Dennis A. Whitaker, partner at Hawke, McKeon & Sniscak, LLP, is an experienced litigator with over 25 years of Commonwealth service.  Focusing on government appellate and original jurisdiction practice in state and federal courts, Dennis offers sound advice, creative solutions, and effective strategies to clients navigating the appeals process.