All eyes on judgeships at the courthouse

January 1, 2013
Underground utilities, new streetlights and brick work make an inviting intersection at the corner of Beau and South Main Streets where Washington County Courthouse sits. Photographed July 3, 2005. Published July 10, 2005. - Observer-Reporter Order a Print

The revolving door at the Washington County Courthouse is getting plenty of action, especially when it comes to county judges.

As 2013 dawns, court officials are scurrying to deal with two vacant judicial positions, and the list of attorneys looking to be elected to an open post continues to grow.

The changes on the bench began in 2010 with the death of Judge Mark Mascara. Attorney Phil Melograne was appointed to replace Mascara until a new judge was elected.

Melograne was out at the end of 2011, after he was defeated in the primary election by attorney Gary Gilman, who then went on to win the post in the fall.

At that time, it seemed like the county court would run at full capacity for a substantial period of time.

Then, suddenly, Judge Paul Pozonsky, 56, announced his retirement midsummer after 15 years in office and with five years remaining on his current 10-year term.

Senior judges were called in to pick up some of the heavy workload, especially since Pozonsky handled the majority of the county’s criminal cases and the state seemed unlikely to approve appointment of an interim judge.

The next surprise came in November, when Judge Janet Moschetta Bell said she, too, was opting for retirement after six years on the bench. She will officially leave her office this week.

Thus, the county’s judicial system is left scrambling to handle its already burdensome caseload, down two full-time judges and with the part-time help of a senior judge or two.

But help may be on the way, according to state Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, who said he has been working with President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca, the remaining seated judges and Gov. Tom Corbett’s office.

“I’m waiting to hear from the governor if he is looking at one or two appointments,” said Solobay. “But they are definitely considering an appointment.”

Whether it be one or two, Solobay said any appointment would be helpful to the court. The problem, however, is that the earliest an appointment can be made is Jan. 22, when the Senate returns from break. It’s the Senate’s job to confirm a judicial appointment.

“If we carry it out too far, it (an appointment) is not going to be too much help,” said the senator, explaining that the consensus is that an appointee should be an attorney not interested in running for election to the seat this year.

He explained that by the time the appointee took office and got acquainted with his new position, he or she would have only a few months to serve before having to step down.

Solobay said several attorneys have expressed interest in such an appointment, including First Assistant District Attorney Michael Lucas and attorney David DiCarlo, who lost a bid for district attorney in 2011.

Lucas said he is definitely going to be a candidate for one of the open seats. DiCarlo could not be reached for comment.

Linda Metz has been with the Observer-Reporter since 2000, covering Washington County courts and politics, as well as the city of Washington. She previously was employed by the Tribune Review. She is a graduate of Point Park College, now a university, in Pittsburgh.

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