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Judges Easily Elected in Philadelphia, Some Despite Poor Ratings

(A polling place at 10th and Oxford in North Philadelphia.  File photo by Cherri Gregg)

(A polling place at 10th and Oxford in North Philadelphia. File photo by Cherri Gregg)

Gregg_Cherrie--NEW Cherri Gregg
Cherri Gregg is the community affairs reporter for KYW Newsr...
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By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphians elected ten new judges yesterday and re-elected 18 more.  And four of the judicial candidates won despite getting negative recommendations from the city’s bar association.

The Philadelphia Bar Association‘s Commission on Judicial Selection and Retention spends weeks investigating judicial candidates, evaluating ten areas including legal ability, trial experience, reputation, judicial temperment, and community involvement.

The nonpartisan commission then allows each candidate to make his or her case before a committee of more than 130 lawyers and lay persons who vote via secret ballot on which should be recommended to voters.

“I would like to think the candidates who are recommended are the ones who are chosen, ultimately,” says Teresa Ficken Sachs, who chairs the committee.   “We have teams that spend a tremendous amount of time evaluating each candidate.  We are really interested in the quality of the process, not in the amount of time it takes.”

(Attorney Henry Lewandowski, in campaign photo, was elected to a judicial post despite a negative rating from the Philadelphia Bar Association.)

(Attorney Henry Lewandowski, in campaign photo, was elected to a judicial post despite a negative rating from the Philadelphia Bar Association.)

The commission ultimately gave negative recommendations to five candidates.  Four of them — Jacquelyn Frazier-Lyde, Joseph O’Neill, Sierra Thomas Street, and Henry Lewandowski (right) — were nevertheless victorious.

All of the candidates had been endorsed by the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee.

“They made their decisions independent of our process,” says Sachs, “but there have been times in the past when the City Committee waited to see who the Bar Association recommended before making endorsements. I don’t think that happened this year.”

What happened?

“The parties are likely to support the candidates who win primary elections,” says Terry Madonna, a political science professor and pollster at Franklin and Marshall College.

Madonna says the effort by the Bar Association to vet candidates is commendable but the effort is not appreciated by the public.

“Most voters are not even aware of the recommendations,” he says, noting that there is little publicity surrounding the effort.  “Judicial elections are among the lowest profile elections in the state.  Voters go to the polls knowing very little about the candidates.”

Madonna says that without radio, television, and newspaper ads to put the word out, most voters pay little attention to endorsement by various groups.

“What matters much more is what happens in the wards — what ward leaders and individuals persons in precincts are doing to support candidates,” he tells KYW Newsradio.

Lou Farinella of the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee says ward leaders vet judicial candidates on their own.

“They meet with them, they interview them,” he says. “We don’t just endorse anybody.”

And Farinella says the committee does consider the recommendations of the Bar Association.

“But that’s not the only thing,” he notes.  “We don’t just adopt them.”

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