Rundown of the GOP Judicial Races & Endorsement Predictions
By Keegan Gibson
All of PoliticsPA’s GOP committee sources report that Vic Stabile has the endorsement for Superior Court all but sewn up. While both Commonwealth Court candidates have their virtues, the general sense is that Anne Covey brings more political advantages to the ticket as a woman from southeast PA.
A quick note about the PA Bar Association ratings: they are the standard by which all PA judicial candidates, Democrats and Republicans, are measured. PoliticsPA relied heavily on these ratings for this run-down. The best rating, “highly recommended,” denotes competence and experience. It is most often awarded to sitting judges. The middle rating, “recommended,” denotes competence, often for attorneys without judicial experience. The lowest “not recommended” rating is rarely assigned, but implies a lack of qualifications or a poor judicial temperament.
Reminder of the rules: It is much easier for Republicans to endorse than Democrats. The PA GOP only requires 50% + 1 of committee people to proceed with an endorsement, and 50% + 1 to endorse a specific candidate.
While the endorsed candidates of the GOP state committee have a better track record of winning nomination than their Democratic couterparts, one needn’t look too far to find a counter-example. In 2009 the Republican state committee endorsed Al Frioni, who lost in the primary to Patricia McCullough.
The endorsed Democratic candidates are Allegheny County Judge David Wecht for Superior Court, and Bucks County attorney Kathryn Boockvar for Commonwealth Court.
Here are the candidates who are seeking the GOP endorsement this weekend.
Superior Court –
Paul Panepinto from Philadelphia County received a rating of “highly recommended” by the PA Bar Association during last month’s first round of evaluations for candidacy for the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. Since 1990, Panepinto has served as a judge for the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia and in that time has demonstrated efficiency and effectiveness through the legal knowledge and experience he has gained. He was appointed by Governor Ed Rendell to serve on the Court of Judicial Discipline from 2003-2007 and now has the know-how and inspiration that is crucial to rebuilding public trust. Panepinto has created a number of programs that address the problems of truancy and violence as well as created employment opportunities for those struggling to pay child support. His work with legal administration and litigation matters are what make the commission confident of his candidacy.
Buzz: Despite his southeast roots, Panepinto doesn’t carry very much support from the region. Having finished poorly in previous campaign efforts, committee people believe that he is financially tapped out and not their strongest candidate. Reportedly, he will run regardless of the PA GOP’s endorsement decision.
Along with Panepinto, Paula Patrick, from Philadelphia County, served as a judge for the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia, dealing primarily with delinquency and dependency cases. Prior to her election in 2003 for judge, she gained experience as a solo practitioner for nearly 10 years. She is regarded positively by colleagues as competent and quick to establishing her role as a judge. Patrick has a substantial understanding of the law and strives to provide fairness and justice under its name. She received a middle rating of “recommended” for her candidacy for the Superior Court of PA.
Buzz: Patrick is the dark horse for the endorsement. Not talked about much during the caucus straw polls, she will need to work hard if she is to stand a chance for the endorsement. It is not likely. Reportedly, she too will run regardless of the PA GOP’s endorsement decision.
Victor P. Stabile from Dauphin County came “recommended” in the second round of evaluations for Superior Court of Pennsylvania. He is the managing partner of Dilworth-Paxson’s Harrisburg office and has built a strong career as a civil litigator. He has a history of working as a litigator in the Office of the Pennsylvania Attorney General and as a clerk for a Commonwealth Court judge. His work handling cases before the appellate courts exhibits skill and knowledge. Stabile has been described as intellectually capable and passionate with a strong work ethic.
Buzz: Stabile served as the chairman of the Cumberland County Republicans for over a decade, meaning that he knows practically everyone at state committee. He also knows how to win over committee votes, pledging to withdraw from the race if he is not endorsed. He is well-regarded and well-liked, and supposedly won every regional caucus straw poll vote, except the southwest, which he narrowly lost, and the northeast, which canceled their vote due to weather. Stabile won Panepinto’s home caucus in the southeast by a whopping 58-15. Although some committee members (particularly in the southwest) are concerned that Stabile’s central PA base won’t be enough to outweigh David Wecht’s advantage in western PA, he is the odds-on favorite for the endorsement this weekend.
Johnny J. Butler of Philadelphia County came “highly recommended” during the first round of evaluations last month. Under his belt, Butler has built a 40 year career as a leader with experience in public administration and organizational and workforce development. He served as secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry and as acting general counsel for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. In these roles he has accumulated a precise understanding of human resource management and employment law. Both in 2008 and 2009, he was appointed to the Commonwealth Court. As a candidate for judge of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, Butler possesses experience, integrity, and a high performance record.
Buzz: As a sitting judge, Butler has a leg up vis-a-vis the PA Bar ratings. However, his gender may work against him for this endorsement. Republicans are looking match the diversity of the Democratic ticket, which includes Bucks County attorney Kathryn Boockvar. Additionally, some committee members are put off by Butler’s decision to run for this seat, despite a pledge not to run after his 2008 appointment. (Butler was re-appointed in 2009, which technically voided his 2008 pledge not to run). If that weren’t enough, Butler is within 10 years of his 70th birthday, meaning by law that he could not complete a full 10 year term. Reportedly, Butler will run regardless of the committee’s endorsement decision.
The PBA Judicial Evaluation Commission regards Anne E. Covey of Bucks County as intellectual and more than capable to perform the duties of a judge for the Commonwealth Court. She has administrative and legal experience in the fields of employment and labor relations. Covey has served on the Pennsylvania Labor Relations board since 2002 and has authored numerous legal publications including a book, The Workplace Law Advisor. Believed to exhibit a strong work ethic and judicial temperament, Covey received a middle rating of “recommended” during the first round for Commonwealth Court candidacy.
Buzz: Covey is the front runner heading into the weekend. Both candidates hail from the southeast caucus, likely splitting the vote there. That increases the chance that the endorsement will be based on the political calculus: namely, that a woman from southeast PA stands the best chance to limit Kathryn Boockvar’s success there. Reportedly, Covey has said that she will back out of the race if she is not endorsed.
In addition to these races, there are 6 Republican judges up for retention this year. None of the renominations are expected to be contested.