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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Northampton County's Three Judicial Candidates

Over the weekend, a reader wrote to me, asking me for the lowdown on the candidates for judge. I decided to write a story for everyone as the Primary beckons.

What is a judge of the court of common pleas? - These are Pennsylvania's trial courts, located in 60 judicial districts. They are based on the common law in England, and were designed originally to handle just civil disputes, not involving the crown. Today's courts of common pleas hear both civil and criminal matters. It is basically a court of general jurisdiction. Ir is also a court of record, meaning there is a transcript of all proceedings.

How many judges are there in Northampton County? - Normally, there should be nine judges on the bench, but Judge Edward Smith has resigned to become a federal district court judge. This election is to fill that void. The judges elect a President Judge, who essentially acts as a first among equals and gets stuck doing a great deal of administrative work. The bench's current President Judge, Steve Baratta, has designated Senior Judge Leonard Zito as the Administrative Judge for the Criminal Court.

What are the basic qualifications? - You have to be a member of the state bar, a state resident for at least one year and reside within the judicial district for a year. From the moment you announce, you are bound by a strict code of judicial conduct designed to ensure the independence and integrity of the court. That's why you won't see most judges at election time, unless they are running for election or retention. That's why some judges, like Judge Koury, refused to accept contributions from lawyers. Once a judge is elected, he never has to run again. He or she can simply seek retention every ten years until age 70, the current mandatory retirement age. Because a judge is supposed to be nonpartisan, candidates can cross-file.

How well does it pay? - Very well. A judge of the court of common pleas is paid $176,572. Every year, that salary goes up. This is less than some well-established lawyers earn, but there is no overhead. Judges are usually provided law clerks, secretaries and tipstaffs as well. They also decide who to hire as probation officers.

Who's running? - Now that I've explained the job, let be tell you about the candidates. Each of them would be an excellent judge, but . Here they are, in alphabetical order

Abe Kassis with children advocate Phil Hof
Abe Kassis. - Abe is a veteran prosecutor, having served for the past 15 years as an assistant DA under John Morganelli. He's a graduate of the Northern Illinois University College of Law, and also serves on serves on the board of directors of the St. Francis Friary in Bethlehem Township as well as the pastoral council of Our Lady of Lebanon Church in Easton. He did pick up a fairly significant endorsement from Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 35.

Abe has a Facebook page and also uses Twitter.

My sole criticism of his campaign is his reliance on tea party hardliners for signatures on his nomination petition. This includes the use of Tom Carroll as a circulator. This is support that Abe sought himself at a tea party meeting, which made him late to a meeting of Democrats.

Sam Murray and family
Sam Murray. - A product of Easton's blue collar neighborhoods, I thought Sam was the best candidate when he first ran in 2009. I still think so today. When he announced his candidacy before a packed house in January, there was an air of inevitability, something I now see on my drives to work. Murray signs are planted, not just on billboards that you pay for, but in people's yards.

I've known Sam since he first started practicing law in 1983, where he quickly developed a thriving family practice. His work ethic and intelligence was recognized by the courts, and he has served as both a custody master and juvenile hearing officer. Of the three judicial candidates, he is the only one who actually has any judicial experience.

Involved in youth sports, Sam coached the Lehigh Little League team that won a state championship and went to the World Series in 2002..My grandson was in awe when he met Sam and his son Joseph after mass one Sunday.

Sam has a webpage and is also on Facebook.  

Vic Scomillio
Vic Scomillio. - When he was elected Executive, one of John Brown's first decisions was to name Vic Scomillio as his Solicitor. A Dickinson Law grad, like yours truly, Vic clerked for Judge Simpson before he ascended to the Commonwealth Court. He's been an excellent lawyer over the past 15 years. Ambitious, Scomillio must have figured that serving as a Brown's legal advisor would be a nice springboard into a judgeship.

He figured wrong.

Brown's first year in office was pretty much a disaster, especially from a legal point of view.  Brown proposed a $20 million line of credit to balance the budget, completely ignoring the Home Rule Charter. He insisted on hiring a public relations consultant despite a provision in the Administrative Code that requires bidding for professional services. He also engaged in piecemeal contracts with C3, keeping them under the threshold required for notice to Council.

Instead of counseling Brown to follow the law, Vic seemed more intent on breaking it. Nowhere was that more apparent that in his illegal firing of an assistant County Solicitor, two days before Christmas, from his car. He completely violated this employee's rights to due process. That fired worker was recently awarded $94,000 by a federal jury.

Vic pretty much spent the last year proving why he should not be elected. In fact, there is some doubt whether he will capture the Republican nomination. I think he will, but have an illegal bet with someone that it is going to Kassis.

So far as I know, Vic has no webpage or Facebook page.

On the left side of this blog, you will see a Northampton County Races page linking to the elections. Please feel free to visit that page. You are welcome to add comments, supporting your candidates or opposing others.


Anonymous said...

OHare is a jerk-off the way he plays favorites. And sometimes switches teams (first he hated Callahan, then he loved him to death). But in this intance, he is correct. Scomilio is part of the Brown-stain. He will forever be linked to the scourge known as John Brownpants.

Anonymous said...

Ken Mohr provided an actual service to the county, unlike Browns consultants who never even explain the bills or what they did for the money.

Anonymous said...

The only anomoly is that you fail to also pan Scumillio's legal acumen. Fellow attornies find him to be arrogant and condescending. Criminal clients find him duplicitous. His legal analytic skills need no further comment. As noted behold the Brown fiasco.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't vote for someone who doesn't have a website or Facebook page on that basis alone. This is 2015, and it takes very little time/effort to get those set up. To me, someone who doesn't bother to create an online information portal doesn't really care about informing voters so they can make an educated decision, and that is not someone I could support.

Anonymous said...

We could see a scenario where Kassis gets the most votes, but Murray wins the D side, and Scomilio the R.

Bernie O'Hare said...

A comment at 1:25, attacking Stoffa, has been deleted. It will be posted again and i will delete it again.

Anonymous said...

Scomillio made a serious mistake when he hitched his horse to Brown. It wouldn't be surprising if you don't see him mentioning Brown by name, only that he was the Solicitor for NorCo. That association alone will sink his ship.

Anonymous said...

The BDS (Brown Derangement Syndrome) group is in full voice. The unions didn't like the last two executives. Shocking. Boring. I like Vic. I'll be voting for him. Thank you for these profiles. Your own BDS aside. They're a great service to voters.

Anonymous said...

Sam Murray is figuratively and literally heads and shoulders above his opponents, who lack his experience and temperament to be quality Judges. Sam's years as a Master have given him a significant edge IMO as he's been fully vetted as a jurist and has handled some very difficult matters with fairness and intelligence.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Vic, you blew it. You showed your lack of judgment by being a member of the Clown Admin. I really don't want you to be judging anyone I know.

Anonymous said...

Murray is the pick of the litter. Scomilio is the runt, but escaped Brown's dog pound. So at least he can look forward to a humane career.

Anonymous said...

I am betting on Scomillio. Young energetic attorney who resonates with the populous.

Anonymous said...

Young energetic Jack Russell terrier.