Saturday, May 09, 2009
Hugh be the Judge
There are several fine candidates for Common Pleas Judge. As a trial attorney I have definite thoughts about what it takes to be a successful trial judge.
1. A Judge must be fair
2. A Judge must be an experienced trial attorney to understand how to make rulings and how to control the courtroom
3. A Judge must be intelligent in order to analyze the issues of law presented in the cases
4. A Judge must have respect for the system: this means respect for parties, jurors, witnesses and lawyers
5. A Judge must be humble enough to realize that the case is about the litigants and justice, not him or her
6. A Judge must be compassionate
I have had the good fortunate of meeting and working with most of the candidates and would like to provide insight. The following is a list in order of the candidates who truly would be outstanding Judges:
Hugh McGough - I have actually known McGough for almost 40 years. He is one of the most open-minded and fair people I know. He is extremely intelligent. After college he became a journalist. So before even going to law school he was trained to analyze, write and get to the bottom of a story; all important qualities for a judge. After a first career producing the Bill and Patti Burns Noon News, he went to law school. Perhaps this was his destiny as his father and brother were top local attorneys. After graduating from law school he first clerked for a judge and then was an associate working for one of Pittsburgh's best civil trial lawyers, Russ Ober. From there he worked as a City Solicitor primarily overseeing labor issues. He has also never shied away from controversial legal fights in order to protect the interests of those who needed help the most.
Hugh McGough has been rated Highly Recommended by the Bar Association. Getting this rating is very difficult. The Allegheny County Bar Association will not give this rating unless they are convinced that the lawyers seeking the endorsement are the cream of the crop. Local lawyers want to make sure that the Bench is as strong as possible. McGough has all of the qualities listed above. He is perfectly suited to be a judge.
Joe Williams I have never had a case with or before Joe Williams, but I have gotten to know him over the last few years. He is a student of the law and has a passion for it. He cares about people and seems to be a fair minded person. He is very bright and successfully built his own practice in Pittsburgh's Northside. He has compassion for people who come before him and respect for the process. Currently he is serving as a Criminal Court Judge having been appointed to fill a term with the understanding that he now has to run. It is obvious that he has a good feel for what he is doing. The Criminal system, when possible should rehabilitate as well as punish. He knows when some one can use help and a second chance, while others need punishment. Williams has also been Highly Recommended by the Bar Association
Phil Ignelzi I have had cases with Ignelzi and he is an excellent attorney. He has a unique background because he has handled Criminal cases as a prosecutor and defense attorney, and he has extensive Civil Court experience. Of the candidates, he is the only one who has been inducted as a Fellow in the Allegheny County Academy of Trial Lawyers. Admission into the Academy is by invitation only after an extensive review and election process. All applicants must be nominated by a current Academy member. The entire Academy membership is confidentially surveyed regarding the qualifications of each applicant. The results of the survey, together with information gained through the application, letters of recommendation, personal interviews and the candidate’s trial experience, are carefully reviewed and considered by the Committee as part of its confidential process of selecting for membership those civil trial lawyers who have exhibited excellence and the highest levels of ethical standards and professionalism. Total membership is limited to 250 voting members who are practicing trial attorneys. Membership is evenly split between those who primarily do defense work and those who primarily represent the plaintiffs. It is one of the highest honors a local civil trial attorney can receive. He has also been rated Highly Recommended by the Bar Association.
Alex Bicket I have had a number of cases with Bicket and his firm. He is a very able civil practitioner. He has a good temperament and understanding for the law. His background is unusual. Bicket was born and raised in South Africa. He left for graduate school and moved to the United States, in part because of the apartheid policies in his native land. Like McGough, he had a first career that would benefit a judge. He was a high school teacher in the Fox Chapel School District. Part of a judge's job is to explain things to jurors and litigants. Bicket was also rated Highly Qualified by the Bar Association.
There are other good candidates, but none reach the level of these four. None of the rest have been rated Highly Qualified. One must look at judicial elections differently than most political races. One's political background really should not be an issue in these races. Judges need to be impartial and should not favor anyone because of political affiliation.
A few guides in analyzing the background of the candidates:
1. You cannot be an effective Judge if you do not have experience trying cases and particularly jury trials. Would you want a surgeon who went to medical school but never performed a surgery before?
2. There is a big difference between a District Justice/Magistrate and a Common Pleas Judge. A District Justice does not even need to be an attorney. This would be like moving from air hockey to the NHL.
3. A Judge does not pick which court he sits in. The new Judge could be assigned to Orphan's (probate), Criminal, Family, Juvenile or Civil Division. Therefore it is important for the judge to have the ability to adapt to any assignment.
It is very important to make a thoughtful decision about judicial candidates. This is how we protect our judicial system. When you go in the voter's booth think about the fact that you or your loved ones may be impacted by the decisions that will be made by these five new judges. This is your chance to assure that your fate will be decided by someone highly qualified.