Sunday, November 01, 2009

OC Judges Run for Superior Court on Nov 3rd

In Pennsylvania's 2009 Municipal Election to be held on Tuesday, November 3, 2009, voters interested in elder, estate, trust or other fiduciary matters should note (and hopefully vote for) two highly qualified Common Pleas judges with extensive Orphans' Court experience who are candidates for Superior Court -- Judge Anne E. Lazarus and Judge Paula Ott.

Judge Anne E. Lazarus, of Philadelphia, is running as a Democrat for Superior Court. Her biography (also found on the State Democratic Committee website) is impressive, and includes a brief mention of her Orphans' Court Division activities:

As a Common Pleas Judge, she has overseen a wide range of cases, having served previously on the Criminal and Civil divisions of the Common Pleas Bench and currently on the Orphans’ Court. She was also the first female judge in Philadelphia to handle the “Rocket Docket,” arguably the most rigorous docket in the court system. Prior to joining the Court, Judge Lazarus worked for fifteen years as an attorney.

In addition to her work with the Court of Common Pleas, Judge Lazarus chairs the Ethics Committee of the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges and was appointed to the Governor’s Commission on Crime and Delinquency. Lazarus was also the first Chancellor of the Louis D. Brandeis Law Society, a society for Jewish lawyers and judges.

Having served as the chairperson of both the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania Judges’ Pro Bono Committee and the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania’s Merit Selection Committee, Judge Lazarus is well-known for her commitment to the community and the legal profession. She is also a member of the board of the Philadelphia Volunteers for the Indigent Program, an organization committed to providing pro bono services to those unable to afford legal assistance.

Among countless awards over the years, she is most proud of her recognition by the Pennsylvania Bar Association as the first-ever recipient of the Judicial Pro Bono Award.

Judge Lazarus serves as an adjunct professor at the Widener University School of Law, the National Judicial College, and the National Institute of Trial Advocacy. Over the years, she has also mentored law students and young lawyers, advocating pro bono service and encouraging her peers to participate in pro bono programs. * * *

I was surprised that her biography made no mention of her extensive involvement with the Joint State Government Commission's Advisory Committee on Decedents' Estate Laws involving Orphans' Court matters, or her participation on its drafting subcommittees regarding powers of attorney, and transfers without probate.

Somehow, among all her other activities, she has managed to attend and participate meaningfully at the Advisory Committee meetings and in the work sessions of at least these two drafting committees.

I became acquainted with Judge Lazarus in these activities. I spoke with her once in a presentation to the Pennsylvania Bar Association's Real Property, Probate & Trust Law Section, about the role of the Orphans' Court Division. In my view, she is a bright, authentic, and caring person, who, as a trial judge, has acted as a protector of funds and people through the Orphans Court Division.

Paula Ott, of Chester County, is running as a Republican for Superior Court. Her biography (also found on the State Republican Committee website), is equally impressive, and likewise highlights her role in Orphans' Court Division activities:

Paula Ott was elected the first woman judge in Chester County in 1991 and was retained in 2001. In more than 17 years as a judge, she has presided over all types of cases, including death penalty cases.

In 2005, Paula Ott was elected President Judge by her fellow judges. During her term as President Judge, her most challenging project has been the completion and occupation of a new Justice Center, which now houses nearly 700 employees. * * *

Paula Ott can bring to the Superior Court her expertise in Orphans' Court litigation. Orphans' Court is a separate division that handles adoptions, guardianships for incapacitated persons, will contests and trust and estate administration. She practiced in this area before becoming a judge and has presided in Orphans' Court since 1992. She also serves on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Orphans' Court Rules Committee and the Joint State Government Commission Advisory Committee on Decedents' Estates Laws.

Judge Ott was President of the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges (2003-2004) and has co-chaired the President Judges' Committee for the past four years. Judge Ott has served on committees that promote best practices in the judicial system, such as the Pennsylvania Bar Association's Commission for Justice Initiatives, the Supreme Court's Advisory Committee on Court Reporting and Transcripts and the Implementation Committee of the Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness.* * *

Judge Ott's biography mentions her work through the Joint State Government Commission's Advisory Committee on Decedents' Estate Laws, and also through another crucial group influencing Orphans' Court practice -- the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Orphans' Court Rules Committee. I met Judge Paula Ott during meetings of both these groups.

In my view, she is unpretentious, considerate, intelligent, decisive, and grounded.

The Superior Court needs judges with Orphans' Court experience to decide cases through its panels and in its full court considerations of appeals from that Division.

Beyond their dedication to the constituencies of the Orphans' Court Division, I respect both these candidates for their community involvement, legal skills, good judgment, and personal tenacity.

I will vote for Judge Anne E. Lazarus and for Judge Paula Ott on Tuesday, November 3rd; and I urge others to do so too.

Update: 11/02/09:

Voters should consult the
Voters Guide (PDF, 3 pages) posted by the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania regarding statewide candidates, including those for judicial positions, to be elected on November 3rd.

Update: 11/11/09:

Paula Ott won a seat on the Superior Court, and Anne Lazarus may do so, whether by acceptance or recount. See:
Recount possible for 4th Pa. Superior Court seat an Associated Press report published in The Philadelphia Inquirer on November 11, 2009:
A recount for a tight Pennsylvania Superior Court election could begin Monday, but a waiver of the right to a recount by one more candidate could stop the expensive process, state officials said yesterday. * * *

Voters last week were to choose four Superior Court judges. A tally released last night based on unofficial returns from all 67 counties showed Judy Olson, Sallie Mundy, and Paula Ott got the three highest vote totals. They are elected.

The race for the fourth seat, however, was close, with Anne Lazarus leading three other candidates who trailed her by less than half of 1 percent.

A recount is automatic under Pennsylvania law unless all three trailing candidates give up that right. Two of the trailing candidates, Robert Colville and Kevin Francis McCarthy, have indicated that they would waive a recount if the others do as well. The remaining candidate, Temp Smith, could not be reached last night. The Department of State said a total of 6,314,250 votes were cast. Lazarus received 723,954 votes; Colville, 721,948; Smith, 720,624, and McCarthy, 711,240.