And then there were eight; judicial candidate files on deadline day

Washington County judicial candidate files on deadline day

March 12, 2013
Washington County's Courthouse Square office building

Peters Township resident Thomas M. Fallert filed nomination petitions Tuesday morning in Harrisburg, bringing to eight the number of candidates seeking one of two open seats on the Washington County bench.

Fallert, 55, of Venetia, who practiced with two Pittsburgh law firms before opening his own law office in Bethel Park in 2003, cross-filed with the Pennsylvania Department of State.

Candidates who had announced their intentions were Blane A. Black of South Strabane Township; Alan Benyak of Carroll Township; Valarie Costanzo of Cecil Township; Charles Kurowski of Canton Township; Mike Lucas of Carroll; and Peter V. Marcoline III and Lane Turturice, both of South Strabane, all of whom cross-filed.

Fallert is a 1979 summa cum laude graduate of Washington & Jefferson College who was named to Phi Beta Kappa. He has practiced law since graduating from the University of Pittsburgh Law School in 1982.

Fallert said he has handled cases involving malpractice, personal injury, products liability, civil litigation, family law, corporate law and criminal law in 20 counties in Pennsylvania as far east as Centre County.

Washington County has two vacant judgeships because of the retirement at the end of last year of Janet Moschetta Bell and the abrupt departure in late June of Paul Pozonsky, who retired amid reports of a statewide grand jury investigation.

Common Pleas Court judges are elected to 10-year terms that currently pay $173,271, according to the Pennsylvania Code.

While judicial candidates filed their petitions in the state capital, countywide row office candidates filed at the Courthouse Square office building, where the name of a newcomer to county politics also surfaced.

Republican Angela J. Carrier of McMurray, a travel agent, is seeking the Washington County Controller’s office, taking on four-term opponent Michael Namie, a Democrat.

No GOP opponents filed against Democratic Recorder of Deeds Debbie Bardella, who is seeking a fifth, four-year term, or Sheriff Samuel Romano, who is seeking a third, four-year term.

The county positions pay $73,544.

Jury commissioner, a position that has been in the news since December 2011 when Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law an option that county commissioners could abolish the office, created a stir Tuesday in the Washington County elections office.

Judy Fisher, Democratic jury commissioner, attempted to file her nominating petitions, but the elections office rejected them because the state Supreme Court last month ordered counties like Washington, where the office had been abolished, not to place it on the ballot.

The state Jury Commissioners’ Association is appealing a Commonwealth Court ruling upholding the law, and sides for and against abolishment argued the case last week in Harrisburg. The Supreme Court has not ruled in the case.

Larry Spahr, Washington County director of elections, said he told Fisher that county solicitors J. Lynn DeHaven and Mary Lyn Drewitz told him not to accept the petitions in light of the Supreme Court’s February order. Fisher left the elections office with written notification from Spahr of his reason for rejecting the petitions.

Richard Zimmerman, Republican jury commissioner, circulated petitions but said he would not file unless given leave by the court.

Counties that have abolished the part-time office are replacing the jury commissioners with a computer database for choosing potential pools of jurors. Washington County has estimated it will save about $80,000 a year in salaries, benefits and other expenses of the jury commissioners’ offices once Fisher’s and Zimmerman’s current four-year terms expire at the beginning of January 2014.

Cross-filing for district judgeships were incumbents Joshua Kanalis, David Mark and Larry Hopkins.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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