Eight Democrats, six Republicans file to run for Pa.’s state appellate court bench

(Patrick Feller/Flickr)

Pennsylvania voters will have to whittle down 14 judicial candidates to eight party nominees this May to fill four open seats on the state’s appellate bench.

There is one open seat on the Superior Court, which handles most criminal and civil appeals, two open seats on the Commonwealth Court, where most suits against state agencies begin, and one open seat on the Supreme Court, which has final say on all Pennsylvania lawsuits.

One Democrat and three Republicans have filed for the Supreme Court seat, according to Department of State records.

The GOP candidates are Commonwealth Court judges P. Kevin Brobson, of Dauphin County, and Patricia McCullough, of Allegheny County, as well as Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Paula Patrick. The state party endorsed Brobson last month.

Superior Court Judge Maria McLaughlin, of Philadelphia, is unopposed for the Democratic nod for the Supreme Court. She beat her Superior Court colleague Carolyn Nichols for the party nod last month.

Nichols, the only Black person on the 31-member statewide bench, told the Capital-Star she had suspended her campaign to “not create unnecessary drama.”

McLaughlin, Brobson, and Patrick are all “highly recommended” by the Pennsylvania Bar Association, which reviews judicial candidates’ credentials and their backgrounds to rate their potential skills as a jurist. McCullough does not yet have a rating. You can view ratings here.

These ratings, while occasionally controversial, are one of the few bits of information voters have in judicial races. 

The Pa. Bar Association carefully creates judicial candidate ratings. But do they actually serve voters?

Judicial candidates are constrained in what they can say when running for office, so party and interest group endorsements, such as organized labor or a gun rights group, can carry a higher weight.

For Commonwealth Court, four Democrats and two Republicans filed to run for the two open seats.

Democrats will pick between Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge David Spurgeon, union attorney and former Allegheny County Councilwoman Amanda Green-Hawkins,, and Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judges Sierra Street and Lori Dumas. 

The state party only endorsed Spurgeon last month. The state bar highly recommended Spurgeon, recommended Street and Dumas, and has not yet issued a recommendation for Green-Hawkins.

Republican voters, asked to fill the two open slots, will only have two candidates for Commonwealth Court — former top GOP Senate counsel J. Andrew Crompton, of Cumberland County, and Stacy Wallace, of McKean County.

Crompton was appointed to the bench in 2019, and is now running for a full, 10-year term. He is recommended by the state bar, while Wallace is not recommended.

As for the Superior Court, three Democrats filed for one open seat. They are Timika Lane, a Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas judge, Jill Beck, an Allegheny County attorney, and Bryan Neft, a former president of the Allegheny County Bar Association.

For Republicans, former assistant attorney general Megan Sullivan, of Chester County, is running unopposed.

All three of the Democratic candidates are recommended by the state bar. Sullivan told the Capital-Star she has applied for a bar recommendation but has yet to be interviewed.

Voters will have a final say on the nominations in the May 18 primary before the November general election. If a judge wins then, they’ll serve a 10-year term, or until they reach the mandatory retirement age of 75 — whichever comes first. 

If a judge reaches the end of their 10-year term, they can run again in a non-partisan retention election where voters either approve or reject another term. Just one judge has ever lost such an election. Four judges will also be up for retention this November.

You must be a registered Democrat or Republican to vote for a judicial nominee in May. But all registered voters will be eligible to vote on a constitutional amendment limiting gubernatorial emergency powers that will also be on the ballot.