Well, The LuLac Political Letter held its candidate’s Forum yesterday afternoon. 15 of the 17 aspirants for Judge of Luzerne County Common Pleas showed up before a group of 50 interested citizens. L.A. Tarone, News Director of WYLN TV 35 was the moderator, Wilkes Barre resident and county wide taxpayer advocate Walter Griffith was the time keeper. Each candidate was given 5 minutes to talk about their qualifications. The 15 candidates spoke in an order determined by a drawing at the outset of the program. Two employees of Genetti’s Best Western Hotel in Wilkes Barre picked the names. Here in speaking order is a brief rundown of what each candidate said at the LuLac Forum.
C.J. BUFALINO Attorney Bufalino said that the major element and ingredient in a Judge was to have character. He pointed out that character is not measured by a snapshot of one person’s life at a particular time but rather as a whole picture of one’s life. He pointed out that demeanor and experience are factors but the main ingredient is character. Bufalino said that character was very important because when one stands before a Judge, they must believe in his or her credibility. He noted he wanted to restore respect for the Court. Bufalino spoke proudly about his family of lawyers pointing out that both his grandfather and father were attorneys of great repute. He said he will work to help restore the public’s confidence in the judicial system. He has 24 years of experience in the civil and criminal courts. Bufalino is self-employed in a general law practice, with emphasis on family law matters.
TINA POLACHEK GARTLEY Told the group that she came from a close knit family. Pointed out that said family was not politically connected or financially independent. Gartley has been practicing law since 1991. The focal point of her career has been family law and protecting the rights of survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. Polachek Gartley said she has been in every courtroom regarding every type of case. She touted that experience in the law plus her real life background as an advocate for the voices that need to be heard as extremely important in her campaign. Citing her three children, she said that kids have a natural sense of justice and that she obtained patience from that experience. She also pointed to her role as a trainer/educator of other lawyers which would add to her qualifications to serve.
JENNIFER ROGERS Cited her experience with Hourigan, Kluger, and Quinn. Said that with her, there would be no learning curve and she’d be ready to hit the ground running. Rogers said she is not connected to any political machine and does not have a connected family. She said other candidates will probably spend a lot more money on the race. She said she is accepting donations from attorneys she knows and who know her for her ability. To get her name out in the public, Rogers said she has used the Internet and attends every function she can to meet people. Reiterating her campaign slogan “no strings attached.” Rogers said she is not beholden to anyone and is her own person. Growing up in Luzerne County, she relocated to Maryland before returning to the area 20 years ago. Her practice is in Kingston focusing on family law and general civil litigation. She was also named a part-time solicitor in 2007 for Luzerne County Children and Youth Services where she serves in the field of child welfare. Rogers said that the only thing people will find in her closet are two speeding tickets, which she paid. She said the time is now to lift the shroud of mystery from the Court system and vowed to be transparent in all of her dealings.
MICHAEL PENDOLPHI Michael Pendolphi said the county needs judges who will adjudicate disputes on a level playing field, regardless of who the parties are or the lawyers representing them. He said his campaign platform consists of unparalleled courtroom experience, change, family values, and accountability. He said he would change the way cases are scheduled in his courtroom – making it “taxpayer-friendly.” He said judges presently schedule all cases for one time and that could result in 40 to 50 cases scheduled at 9 a.m. Pendolphi cited the fact that taxpayers need to be involved in the process of cases. Pendolphi said that this was the time to run because change is needed in the Court system. Pendolphi said his experience in all aspects of the law as an attorney for nearly two decades gives him the experience to handle cases in an efficient and trustworthy manner.
RICHARD HUGHES The Mountaintop attorney told the audience that he was running on his reputation and experience. He asked the voters to judge him on his experience working as a District Attorney in numerous administrations. Hughes said one of the proudest moments of his life was practicing law with his late father. He has tried more than 30 jury trials to verdict, including the prosecution of three defendants for first-degree murder. Hughes also said he served as as a solicitor for municipalities, zoning hearing boards and school districts. Hughes told the audience that he wants to restore integrity to the bench and that many people have told him he has the temperament to serve as Judge.
THOMAS MARSILIO Marsilio told the attendees that he wanted to be one of the two people who received a seat on the Court of Common Pleas. Marsilio said that when he previously ran for office, the Times Leader endorsed him as an independent man of integrity and a maverick. He said that had not changed in a decade. Marsillio told of his appointment to the Naval Academy in 1966 when Democratic Congressman Dan Flood and Republican U.S. Senator Hugh Scott endorsed him. He said that to this day he enjoys bipartisan support. Marsilio said his experience is vastly superior to the other 16 candidates. Marsilio has been a prosecutor on the county, state and federal levels during his 27-year legal career. The veteran attorney said he has the guts to render lengthy prison terms for career criminals, particularly drug dealers and those who prey upon children and the elderly, and the compassion to seek treatment for first-time offenders to lower the county’s recidivism rate. Marsilio ran for District Attorney twice in his electoral career.
MOLLY HANLON MIRABITO This candidate told the people at the Forum that this election of new Judges in the county has a potential to be our finest hour in history. Touting her close family ties, Hanlon Mirtabito outlined her front porch announcement that she made at her parent’s home in Forty Fort. Saying she was a product of working class values, Hanlon Mirabito said she was not taking contributions from lawyers. Mirabito said she has the right temperament and experience to be a good judge. Hanlon Mirabito said that her experience in the DA’s office as well as her volunteer work in various social service organizations gives her an added edge to walk in the shoes of those before her. Those organizations are the Forty Fort Ambulance Association, the Forty Fort Civil Service Commission and coaching the Bishop O’Reilly High School Mock Trial Team for approximately 10 years as well as VISION, Family Service Association and the United Way. She said with the economy the way it was, no candidate should be asking people for a lot of money or any for that matter.
JOSEPH MUSTO Judge Joseph Musto is campaigning to stay on the bench. Musto was appointed to fill the vacancy of the man who defeated him in 1993, Michael Conahan. Musto said he worked in his father’s grocery store as a young man. Musto said that as a cuurent Judge, he is doing his best to help clean up the mess on the Courts. He pointed to the appointment of new Prison Board members. He was one of the first candidates to publicly state he would not accept donations from attorneys so that the playing field would be a level one. Musto pointed to his experience in Federal Court, as well as his handling of numerous black lung cases. Musto said that he has been asked to mediate over 800 cases and said that was important because people trust his judgment. Musto said that his experience and demeanor make him the best candidate for election.
WILLIAM AMESBURY In a soft spoken presentation, William Amesbury said that he was not politically connected, did not have big money and did not have a huge family connection. But he said the greatest gift he received was from his parents, Bud and Ruth Amesbury. He said they gave him integrity, honesty and a hard work ethic that came with the family name. Citing his “everyman” experience as a teacher, a counselor, a union shop steward, an attorney and a district magistrate, Amesbury said he can restore integrity to the Common Pleas Court. Amesbury said he has the experience to make tough decisions because he is a sitting district magistrate. Amesbury said drugs are at the root of most crime, especially violent crime, in the region. He said there are ways to make the system more efficient, such as favoring treatment and counseling over incarceration. Repeating an often used campaign theme, Amesbury said that while other candidates will tell voters what they will do as Judge, he pointed out that he has already done it.
ANTHONY LUMBIS Lumbis came right out of the box at the Forum telling potential voters that if elected, he’d want to serve on Orphan’s Court. Lumbis cited the terrible toll child abuse takes on a community. Lumbis said last year there were 832 cases of child abuse in Luzerne County as compared to Lackawanna County with only 279. Out of a 31 year career, Lumbis has practiced child welfare law for 26 of them. Lumbis said there are complex issues when dealing with cases of child custody, visitation, placement and treatment, especially in light of the recent county judicial scandal. Serving as legal counsel to the Luzerne County Children and Youth Services agency, he said he has brought hundreds of cases against parents of abused and neglected children. Lumbis said that juvenile placement has to be changed with children being routed to homes of family members like aunts, uncles, grandparents and not detention centers.
JOSEPH SKLAROSKY , JR. Saying he wants to fix what is broken, Sklarosky said he understands the large responsibility that comes with the position. He told the attendees that each judge holds countless lives in his or her hands every day. He pointed out that the lives of victims and the lives of the accused, and the lives of their family members, friends, and loved ones have to come before a Judge who is impartial and independent. He also added that the lives of husbands and wives going through separation, children affected by crime or by divorce, and those children who are accused of committing a crime are people that need a Judge who will be fair. Sklarosky said the lives of thousands of citizens who have never set foot in a courtroom must rely on the basic fairness of our judicial system for their safety and protection. Sklarosky said he is regarded as a straight shooter and that he offers values, honesty and integrity. Citing his family’s love for the law, the attorney said that it is important that if you become a Judge, you never forget who you are and where you came from when you don that black robe.
THOMAS O’CONNOR Tom O’Connor complimented the audience on their rapt attention to all of the candidates. Then he issued a challenge to them. He asked those attending to ask their friends and neighbors about him. He asked them to find out about his qualifications and temperament to be Judge. O’Connor said the best compliment he gets is when people tell him he has the experience and temperament to be a county jurist. O’Connor, one of 12 children of the late Patrick J. and Helen A. O’Connor, said he has always recognized the importance of community involvement and public service. His mother served as Luzerne County register of wills for 32 years. O’Connor said he is proud of his representation of Vietnam veterans. He serves as the national legal adviser to the Veterans of Vietnam War and the Veterans Coalition. O’Connor also brought up the point that all candidates can cross file on both parties And said he would welcome support from everyone regardless of affiliation.
JOSEPH TERRANA The Pittston Area attorney said that he used to be a daily reader of The LuLac Political Letter and all of the internet sites of local newspapers. Now he said he reads them every few hours given the amount of news regarding what seems like a scandal a day in Luzerne County. Terrana said that this is a tough time for people from Wall Street to River Street. Terrana said that everone has to look inside themselves to see what they can do to solve the problems besetting the county. He advised that’s why he is running. Terrana said the public is concerned about scandals and arrests of judges, school directors and administrators, as well as people charged with stealing from fire companies and Little Leagues. He said people are tired of scandals. Terrana said that he felt this crisis in confidence in the county would pass but was glad that people were waking up to the reality that all is not well. He pointed out that he is running to make things better. He urged others to look within to see what they can do to help. Terrana said he would be accountable to the people who put their trust in him.
STEPHEN MENN Complimenting his fellow candidates, Menn said that no matter what the outcome on May 19th in the election, he pointed out that the people and the County Judiciary would be in good hands. Menn said that there was nothing wrong with the system, that all it needed was a change in faces. Menn said he has the demeanor to be a good judge. He says his experience in civil and criminal court gives him an edge. Menn said his toughest decision as a judge would be to take someone’s freedom away or issue the death penalty. He said a 10-year term is fair for the judiciary. Menn talked about his family’s business, Pittston Electric and said that he does not come from a legal or political family. He said no one should vote for a Judge based on their likeness on a billboard and urged voters to do research on all the candidates running.
MICHAEL BLAZICK Saying his was not a campaign of slogan but action, Blazick said that when an attorney spends days with a client preparing a case, sometimes it is disheartening to face a Judge who might be too lazy or uninformed to read a brief. Blazick said the recent scandals in the county compelled him to get into the fray. He said that every person appearing before him would receive a fair and unbiased decision. The cornerstone of his campaign was to refuse all contributions from attorneys. Conceding there was a toxic environment in Luzerne County, Blazick said he had a passion for justice, the skills to give justice as well as the energy and temperament to be the best Judge possible. Blazick said “The most important person in the courtroom is going to be the one that is going to lose since that person has to leave there getting the impression that they got a fair hearing and impartial judgment.
When the floor was opened up for questions, audience members asked about merit selection, donations from fellow lawyers, how they’d make changes in the courthouse, and Anne Lokuta’s removal from the bench.
On Merit Selection, most had reservations about it because you had to have a political connection to even be considered. However Judge Musto said that having been part of the merit selection process and an election, he had seen the positives and negatives of both. Sklarosky said if there was merit selection, he'd "have zero chance" of being a Judge. Atty. Marsilio took the devil’s advocate stance and relayed his experiences as an interviewee by a selection panel. Even though he didn’t get the position, he said he was comfortable with the broad based make up of the committee.
Donations from fellow lawyers started a spirited discussion. Jennifer Rogers said anyone who knew her realized any money donated would not affect her decision making process. Atty. Sklarosky and Lumbis also reiterated that belief. Lumbis said he raised just $7,000 and that the problem existed with large contributions that amounted to thousands of dollars. Pendolphi said that if he had two friends, a carpenter and a lawyer, why would it be fair to take money from one and not the other? L.A. Tarone asked if any Judge who got money should inform opposing counsel in a case and would the Judges have a problem with recusal from said case. None did.
Regarding a question about changes in the courthouse and the Judiciary, all candidates agreed that the only problem with the system was that the wrong people abused it. Polachek Gartley said that on the campaign trail a woman approached her and said that when Mark Ciavarella first became Judge, he was honest and what can Judges do to keep their integrity and honesty. Gartley said this was of paramount importance to voters who had a right to be gun shy.
On the Anne Lokuta case, Lumbis said that since the case was on going, despite personal opinions, no one could say anything on it in accordance with Judicial canons. Sklarosky referred the audience to the Pennsylvania Judicial Review Board’s web site.
For more information on the Judicial Forum, check the Times Leader and Bill O’Boyle’s report as well as the Citizen’s Voice’s Erin Moody’s take on the event.
THIS AND THAT
All candidates were articulate, friendly and very well versed in what they wanted to do as Judge…………..Most candidates came solo with no family members in tow………….The beautiful weather put a damper on the low turnout although it was pointed out that there didn’t seem to be any turnout from the parents and guardians of those children who got a raw deal from Judges Ciavarella and Conahan……WYLN TV’s 35 and WBRE TV covered the event…..Gort 42 attended as well as frequent caller to WILK “Duke from Dallas”……………Walter Griffith served as time keeper for the event….Some audience members wondered why the Luzerne County Law and Library Association did not sponsor a debate………and the event ended in time for the candidates to get to a Ziti Dinner in the Third District. Atty. Joe Terrana cracked that with all of the campaign events each person was attending, that the winning candidates would need a big robe to hide the weight gain.