[Update: this post was from the primary in May, but I’ve seen a steady stream of traffic to it recently with the election coming up. Here’s my updated guide for the election itself in November.]

In the majority of civil lawsuits and criminal prosecutions, there is only one judge who ever matters: the trial judge. Because most lawsuits and prosecutions occur on the state, not federal level, that means that, for most Philadelphia residents, they will only ever have their rights enforced by one person: a Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge.

Sure, our legal system has a lot of checks and balances, including the right to appeal the decisions made by a trial judge in a civil or criminal case reviewed by a panel of independent judges, but that right is for most people only theoretical. In practice, appeals are the exception, not the norm. Most civil cases settle. Most criminal defendants who stage a defense nonetheless enter into a plea bargain. Even on appeal many of the key decisions, from discovery in civil cases to evidentiary rulings in criminal prosecutions, are left to the trial judge’s discretion.

That’s a long way of saying: Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judges matter. Philadelphia is a strongly Democratic town, so the primary generally determines much of the election itself, but only a tiny fraction of the population votes in the primary, and those that do generally know almost nothing about the judicial candidates. Most of the winners of the Democratic primary tomorrow will likely win the election and become the next Common Pleas judges, which they will continue to be for at least ten years, likely longer, since judges tend to be “retained” every ten years by voters once they’re on the bench.

Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts has long been advocating for merit selection, but for now we still have elections, so let me help you out. Which judicial primary candidates should you vote for?

First, the Philadelphia Bar Association has put together a list of “recommended” judicial candidates:

The Commission on Judicial Selection and Retention is independent and non-partisan. It includes lawyers and non-lawyers. Among the members of the Commission are community leaders, officials including the Chief Public Defender, City Solicitor, and the President Judges of Common Pleas Court and Municipal Court, and representatives of minority legal groups and various sections of the Bar.

The ratings by the 30-member Judicial Commission follow extensive study and investigation by the Commission’s own 120-member investigative division, which includes 30 non-lawyer members. Candidates found “Recommended” satisfied a cumulative review of criteria including qualifications such as legal ability, experience, integrity, temperament, community involvement and judgment.

Here’s their print-out to take along when voting, which you can compare to the actual ballot list order. The bar for being “recommended” is high, but not too high. I don’t see why a person would vote for a non-recommended candidate unless they personally knew that candidate’s abilities and values.

But the PBA “recommended” far more than 10 candidates for nomination, leaving voters to decide among them. Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts has compiled some resources about the judicial candidates:


SmartVoter.org, sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
PA Vote Smart, a project of the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
– The Pennsylvania Bar Association Judicial Evaluation Committee recommendations for the Superior and Commonwealth Court elections.
– The Philadelphia Bar Association’s rating of candidates for the judicial primary.
– The candidates’ answers to five questions posed by the Editorial Board of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

In addition to those non-partisan sources, let me add to that two endorsement lists that might be of interested to certain types of voters, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 endorsements and the National Lawyers’ Guild survey of progressive lawyers on judicial candidates. Generally, the FOP will endorse candidates it perceives to be strong on “law-and-order” issues while the NLG survey respondents will favor candidates strong on civil liberties and equality issues.

Below the jump, I’ve taken the Philadelphia Bar Association’s recommended candidates, linked to what seemed to be the most authoritative website about them (usually their main website, but if I couldn’t find one then I would link to their Facebook page or their Inquirer questionnaire) and then cut and pasted what I thought was the most substantive information provided about them. Every judicial candidate says they want to be “fair” and “unbiased” — unless you know them personally (or know someone who does) the only real information we have to go on is their professional experience. A qualified judicial candidate should be able to describe, with some specificity, their professional interests and accomplishments.

Before the list, let me give a quick endorsement for the only candidate I’ve dealt with personally, Christopher Mallios, Jr., #111. He’s a former Chief of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Family Violence & Sexual Assault Unit, is endorsed by the FOP, supported by NLG lawyers more than 3-to-1, LGBT friendly, and, most of all, a smart lawyer and a decent human being. I have no doubt he would make an excellent judge.

Below this line is the full list, with excerpts from their websites / questionnaires. If you know of a better source than the one I linked to or quoted, please shoot me an email and I’ll update the post.

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Drew Aldinger

Drew joined the Philadelphia office of Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP in 1998 and began heading up its litigation department, representing its governmental and quasi-governmental clients.  Drew credits a great deal of his career growth and success to Linebarger Goggan.  “At Linebarger I’ve always had the opportunity to be active in courtroom litigation in both state and federal court, appellate advocacy, arbitrations, legal research and writing projects and pro bono service.” …

Drew conducted a foreclosure avoidance and property tax seminar at The Senior Center in conjunction with the SeniorLAW Center and has given lectures for dozens of housing counselors throughout the City.  In recognition of his timeless efforts helping a pro bono client through Philadelphia Volunteers for Indigents Program, both in and out of the courtroom, Judge Annette Rizzo nominated him for the 2006 Pro Bono Award of the Civil Division of the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania.  Each year, Drew leads his firm in participating in the Annual Philly Spring Clean Up.  Last year, Drew and other members of his firm combined hands-on work at a build day in the Walnut Hill section of the City for Rebuilding Together Philadelphia with the Philly Spring Clean-Up.

Diana Anhalt

Diana is a graduate of St. Joseph’s University with a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice. A former juvenile probation officer, Diana attended Temple University School of Law. For over a decade, Diana worked as an Assistant District Attorney specializing in rape, child abuse and domestic violence. Diana is endorsed by the F.O.P. Lodge 5 of Philadelphia, District Attorney Seth Williams and District Council 21. Diana is also recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Judicial Commission. As a Judge, Diana will work with integrity and fairness to protect both the community and individual’s rights and promote justice for all.

Giovanni O. Campbell

· Has handled 1200 cases to completion which is far more than most of the other candidates for Court of Common Pleas

· A lifetime of community service:

· Delivered Law Related Education
-served as Presiding Judge in 2011 Michael S. Bradway Annual Mock Trial Competition
served as scoring judge in dozens of high school mock trials

· Coached high school mock trial teams

· Taught Law Related Education within high school classrooms

· Member of the Federal Bar Association (Criminal Defense Committee, Philadelphia Bar Association, Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (PACDL), and the Council for Parent and Attorney Advocates (COPAA), among others.

· J.D. Temple University School of Law

· Fluent in Spanish

Anne Marie B. Coyle

Born in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. LaSalle University Class of ’81. Villanova School of Law Class of ’84. Former Philadelphia County Assistant District Attorney. Former law clerk and legal advisor to the Honorable United States District Court Judge Edmund Ludwig. Former intern of the Honorable United States District Court Judge Joseph McGlynn.

Admitted to practice law in the courts of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and the courts of the State of New Jersey. Concentrated practice law in the area of domestic relations.

Charles Ehrlich

Charley is currently an attorney with the Philadelphia firm Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman and Coggin where he practices civil litigation. He left the D.A.’s office in 2010. However, he has continued to work closely with Seth Williams and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille and Justice Seamus McCaffery over the last year, working to bring about sweeping systemic reform in the Philadelphia criminal courts. Charley has played a key role in the creation of the innovative new zone courts system. He has also been instrumental in the development of a new rule which allows property crimes such as car theft or credit card fraud to go forward in the early stages without forcing victims to repeatedly spend hours waiting and testifying in court. He is also working on the city-wide expansion of Community Court and new procedures to combat witness intimidation in the criminal courts.

For over 24 years, Charley rose through the ranks of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, most recently serving for 9 years as the Chief Assistant District Attorney of the Municipal Court Unit. In this position Charley trained and managed over 200 new Assistant District Attorneys in their pivotal first year as prosecutors. As Chief, Charley oversaw the 60,000 cases a year handled by that unit, including all preliminary hearings for cases involving shootings, robberies, drug dealing, assaults and economic crimes.

Michael Fanning

I have over 20 years of courtroom experience, handling thousands of cases in both criminal (prosecution and defense) and civil matters, with cases ranging from the simple to complex, along with years of experience handling jury trials in both state and federal courts. My experience includes being a former Assistant District Attorney, where I served as the First Assistant in the Child Abuse Unit and I have been selected by the Federal Judiciary (Eastern District of Pennsylvania) to serve upon Criminal Justice Act Panel, where I have handled and tried complex federal criminal cases involving the United States Department of Justice. Further, in addition to earning a Judicial Doctorate degree, I have also earned a Master of Laws in Trial Advocacy degree from Temple University School of Law.

Angelo J. Foglietta

-Member of the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and American Bar Associations
-Former Philadelphia Chief Assistant City Solicitor
-Spent Entire Legal Career Fighting for the Rights of Injured Individuals
-Elected President of the Board of Directors of United Communities of Southeast Philadelphia
-Selected as EPIC Stakeholder for South Philadelphia
-Former Teamster Driver

Vince Giusini

I have extensive trial experience in all divisions of the Court of Common Pleas, the court I aspire to, those being Civil, Criminal, Family and Juvenile, having tried more than 500 cases in my career and handled more than 1000 cases in the Court of Common Pleas alone.

Roger F. Gordon, Jr.

• 22 months on Common Please Court hearing criminal bench and jury trials.
• Former City of Philadelphia Jury Commissioner
• Former Assistant Public Defender
• Former Assistant District Attorney
• Former Major Trials Plaintiff’s Attorney
• Former Senior Trial Attorney for an insurance company
• Instructor in Trial Advocacy
• Argued before Commonwealth and Superior Courts
• Tried cases in Federal Courts and seven counties
• 25 years of trial experience
• Mediator on insurance and labor disputes
• Appointed by Governor Rendell
• Approved by the Governor’s Judicial Nominating Commission
• Rated “Recommended” by the Philadelphia Bar association
• Endorsed by Democratic City Committee
• Endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police

Daine Grey, Jr.

State Public Defender,
Philadelphia Defender’s Association 1998 – 2001

Law Associate, Medical Malpractice Defense
Marshal Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin 2001 – 2003

Sole Practitioner/Criminal Defense  2003 – present

During my 14 years as a defense attorney, my client base has included individuals, small businesses, religious organizations, and those who have been neglected and abused.

Jonathan Q. Irvine

During law school Jonathan supplemented his course work with legal training as a law clerk for the Honorable James T. Giles in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and as a Summer Associate in the Philadelphia offices of Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin. Upon graduating from law school in 1995, Jonathan began his professional career as an Associate with Marshall, Dennehey. Two years later he started his current private law practice within Philadelphia’s court system, specializing in criminal defense, family and dependency law. While maintaining his private practice he has applied his legal talents to serve the Philadelphia community as a Certified Arbitrator (1997 to present), Protection from Abuse Hearing Master (1997 to present), Truancy Hearing Master (1998 to present) and Adoption Hearing Master (1998 to present) in the Philadelphia Municipal Court and the Court of Common Pleas.

A lifelong Democrat, Jonathan is the son of Jean and the late John Irvine, both of whom dedicated their careers to serving as public employees in the Philadelphia court system. He and his wife Christa (Hayes) Irvine have two children – Lauren, 10, and Jonathan, Jr., 8. Jonathan and his family are active members of Bethlehem Baptist Christ and reside in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia.

Vincent L. Johnson

Vincent L. Johnson has 30 years of legal experience representing all different types of people and business such as small businesses, criminal cases, civil litigations, religious organizations, and individuals in need.

Mr. Johnson is proud to be an ordained minister, a devoted father of two children, and has been working for 30 years in his community providing legal services pro-bono to individuals in need. He is a member of the Prince Hall Free & Accepted Masons, and serves on the Board of Directors of Grand Old Gospel Fellowship Inc.

· – Bachelor of Arts in English w/ honors: 1978, Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA

· – Certificate of Social Welfare w/ distinction: 1978, Atlanta University Center, Atlanta, GA

· – Juris Doctorate: 1981, Temple University School of Law, Philadelphia

· – Post Graduate Education in Religious Studies: 1996, Philadelphia Biblical University, Langhorne, PA

Sean Kennedy

I have been practicing law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for 23

years, the majority of which has been as a civil litigator, trying and/or litigation

hundreds of cases. I have extensive experience practicing before the courts of this Commonwealth and, I believe, carry the reputation of being an attorney of high ethics and morals, who treats attorneys and lay people alike with respect and courtesy.

Robert M. Kline

· 22 years Practicing Attorney

· Arbitrator-Court of Common Pleas

· Law Clerk, Hon. Bernard Goodheart

· Sole Practitioner Representing Individuals and Small Businesses in Bankruptcy and Foreclosure Defense

Sayde J. Ladov

Sayde Joy Ladov, after a highly successful year as the 2009 Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association, the nation’s oldest metropolitan bar association, has decided to devote herself to public service. This is full circle for her. Sayde started her career in 1978 as an Assistant District Attorney in the Bronx.  After a four year stint, she came to Philadelphia and began her private practice.  Sayde has advocated for victims of senseless, baseless crimes and then began to advocate for victims of professional negligence, premises, and auto negligence.  Her practice also has taken her to family court where she has represented victims of domestic violence, and strived for economic justice for individuals involved in divorce and support cases.  She has also represented litigants in custody matters where the paramount concern is the best interest of the child.

Harry J. Levant

· Trial Lawyer with over 21 years experience

· Arbitrator Court of Common Please Philadelphia County

· Committee Person 21st Ward

· For 4-years, Harry was President of the Shawmont Home and School Association

· Active in his community of Roxborough/Andorra, Harry has served as a baseball, basketball and soccer coach with the 21st Ward youth sports organization.

Christopher Mallios, Jr. (the only one I know well enough to evaluate and endorse)

· Chief of the District Attorney’s Family Violence & Sexual Assault Unit

· Practicing attorney for 24 years

· Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney for 16 years

· Supervised the District Attorney’s Elder Justice Project

· Tried and supervised thousands of cases in Pennsylvania courts

· Law Clerk for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court

· Law Clerk for the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

· Criminal defense attorney, certified to represent defendants in capital cases

· Legislative Liaison for the Philadelphia District Attorney and Pennsylvania District Attorney’s Association

· District Attorney’s Liaison to the LGBT Community

· District Attorney’s Hate Crime Coordinator

· Member of PhillyNOW

· Affiliate of the Ortner Center for Family Violence

· Member of  the William Way Community Center

· Former Chair and Member of GALLOP

· Attorney Advisor to AEquitas: The Prosecutor’s Resource on Violence Against Women

· Adjunct Professor, Temple University Beasley School of Law

· Adjunct Professor, University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice

Barbara A. McDermott

It was while participating in a legal clinic that I decided that I wanted to practice criminal law, yet still be involved in public service. Upon graduating on the Dean’s List in 1980, I accepted a position with the Department of Environmental Resources in Harrisburg. I was also appointed as a Special Deputy Attorney General to prosecute hazardous waste dumpers. I spent four years prosecuting these “white collar” criminals whose actions adversely affected the lives of many communities.
In 1984 I moved to Philadelphia to join the District Attorney’s Office. For the next six years I prosecuted thousands of felony cases and numerous homicides. I left the office when I was approached by a newly appointed judge of the Court of Common Pleas to assist him in his new office.
For the next eleven years, I clerked for two different judges and maintained a small criminal defense practice by accepting court appointments. In my clerkships I created office systems, supervised judicial staff, researched legal issues, wrote judicial opinions, and completed all judicial accountability forms. In 2001, I resigned my clerkship position in order to run for the Court of Common Pleas.
Since that time, I have expanded my criminal defense practice, but continue to focus on court-appointed clients, particularly those charged with capital homicides. I am one of a limited number of attorneys who accept capital homicide appointments.

Maria McLaughlin

Ms. McLaughlin is a former Chief Assistant District Attorney in Philadelphia County.  She was the head of the Child Support Enforcement Unit.  She served as a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Office from 1992-2011 and was appointed Chief in 2003 by the Honorable Lynne Abraham.

In addition to her duties as Chief, in 2009 current District Attorney Seth Williams appointed Ms. McLaughlin Director of the Family Justice Center Initiative.  This center will serve all victims of domestic violence. Ms. McLaughlin has successfully tried thousands of cases involving child support and paternity issues in the Court of Common Pleas.  Under Ms. McLaughlin’s direction the Child Support Enforcement Unit has collected millions of dollars in unpaid child support for children in Philadelphia.  Ms. McLaughlin has also handled numerous family law appellate issues before the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.

Stephen J. Negro

I am a quintessential Philadelphian. Born and raised in a blue-collar Philadelphia neighborhood, I attended St. Bartholomew’s grade school, followed by Central High School of Philadelphia, using a combination of intelligence and hard work to succeed in becoming a successful and well-respected attorney. I am the youngest of 6 siblings and the first attorney in my family. My father was a machinist who attended college at night for 10 years, while supporting his 6 children, and eventually graduated and became an accountant at the Frankford Arsenal. I have inherited that work ethic and intelligence, and despite a lack of family financial resources, matriculated through college at Penn State University, and law school at Widener University, entirely on my own, through a combination of student loans and work.

I have been selected in over 200 cases, in the last 3 years, to serve as the sole arbitrator, both judge and jury, and to reach a final binding decision regarding these cases.

Carolyn H. Nichols

Nichols, 55, former head of the Minority Business Enterprise Council, is an attorney who has tried more than 500 cases in state and federal court. Nichols said she brings a unique combination of administrative and courtroom experience to the bench.

“I bring administrative as well as the traditional trial skills,” she said.

An attorney with her own practice in West Philadelphia, she has been involved in some high profile cases — most recently the widely publicized discrimination suit against the Valley Swim Club in Montgomery County.

Nichols would change the traditional approach to non-violent offenders. “The system is clogged with people that need diversionary treatment elsewhere,” she said.

J. Scott O’Keefe

I have been a trial attorney for over 32 years in Philadelphia.  …


Additionally, I have taught law for the past 20 years as an Adjunct Professor of Law at Villanova University.  I have the honor of being a Referee for the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in cases involving the Reliance Insurance Company.  Essentially that means I sit as a judge over trials involving Reliance, hear testimony, decide issues of law and render opinions on behalf of the Commonwealth Court.


My experience as a police officer and defense attorney, makes me uniquely qualified to serve as a trial judge. It allows me to see both sides of a case and I will fairly and honestly perform my duties as a judge.

Joseph J. O’Neill

[Could not find any official website.]

Kenneth J. Powell, Jr.

He was appointed to a Judgeship by Governor Edward G. Rendell in June of 2009 and is now running for a full term on the court. He is presently serving in the Municipal Court of Philadelphia. …


I was born and raised in South Philadelphia. I am the son of a Philadelphia police officer and a housewife. I am one of 7 children. I attended grammar school and high school in South Philadelphia and later attended La Salle College and Temple University School of Law. I also earned a Masters Degree and completed the course work for a second Masters Degree. I am trained in social work and have a vast amount of experience in psychotherapy as well as delivery of services to underprivileged populations. Prior to practicing law I was Director of Drug Treatment for the Philadelphia Court System and Associate Director of the Philadelphia Department of Probation and Parole.

After practicing for 30 years, I believed it was time to give back. When I was a young Attorney, most of the men and women who took the bench had practiced for decades and garnered experience in a variety of subspecialties of the law. Likewise, I have been a Prosecutor, a Criminal Defense Attorney, a Plaintiff’s Lawyer and a Defense Lawyer in civil matters. I have represented defendants in death penalty cases. I have handled cases which range from hub cap theft to capital murder and from $5 traffic tickets to multi- million dollar civil cases

Every evening when I leave the bench, I devote time to charitable work. I am President of The Orpheus Club of Philadelphia and have been the mastermind of its Outreach Program. We are an all male singing group, the oldest in America, and through our Outreach Program we entertain throughout the Philadelphia area at schools, community centers, hospitals, and organizations representing the homeless. We also do three concerts yearly at the Kimmel Center. I also am a volunteer, 3 days a week, at Project H.O.M.E. I coach their Mock Trial team and work with teenage boys and girls there.

Stephanie M. Sawyer

[S]he was raised in Philadelphia attending Holy Cross Elementary School until her acceptance into Masterman and Philadelphia’s High School for Girls before earning her undergraduate and law degrees from Temple University.  As a single mother of two and the product of a single mother, Ms. Sawyer is no stranger to hard work.  She took her first job at the age of 14 years old and thereafter she continuously worked throughout her scholastic career.  While earning her degrees, Ms. Sawyer held a wide variety of jobs which ranged from being a private tutor, a first grade teacher, a waitress and a bar tender in the middle North Philadelphia.  Ms. Sawyer’s non-legal work history, among other things, provided her a distinct understanding of the typical Philadelphian which stays with her to this very day.

Ms. Sawyer began her legal career while still in law school interning briefly in the District Attorney’s office, the Public Defenders’ Office with a sole practitioner, and finally in the Law Department for the City of Philadelphia.  After graduations, Ms. Sawyer became an Assistant City Solicitor in Philadelphia’s Law Department where she quickly developed her skills as a civil litigator. During her almost five (5) year tenure with the City, Ms. Sawyer successfully negotiated resolution to countless personal injury claims, conducted scores of depositions further solidifying her effective style of witness examination, as well as presenting and winning hundreds of arbitration’s, hearings and trials.

In 1995, Ms. Sawyer left this position as she was determined to help people on a more personal basis. …  Since 1995, Ms. Sawyer expanded her practice to include employment discrimination, family, criminal, and contract law in addition to her continued practice of personal injury law.


Fran Shields

· 34 year member of Sprinkler Fitters Local Union 692

· Former Democratic Committeeman 35th & 53rd Ward

A founding member of [Darreff & Shields], Mr. Shields concentrates in litigation and alternative dispute resolution practice. He represents manufacturers, builders and individuals in construction defect claims, construction site accidents, commercial claims and breach of contract claims. He handles Uniform Commercial Code, breach of warranty and consumer fraud act claims. He represents business entities in contract disputes involving surety bond claims, mechanics liens and contractual indemnification issues. He represents labor unions and their members in a wide variety of matters.   Mr. Shields also represents individuals in personal injury claims stemming from premises liability, construction site accidents and motor vehicle liability claims.

Joseph C. Waters, Jr. – apparently gave up his campaign, according to this story.

Edward C. Wright

Specifically, throughout my eighteen (18) years of practice, I have been fortunate to gain litigation experience in all three (3) divisions of the Court of Common Pleas, the Trial Division, both civil and criminal, the Family Court Division, and the Orphans’ Court Division. I have also gained litigation experience in Federal Court while at the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office wherein I was immersed in a strictly federal civil practice defending the Commonwealth, its agencies, officials and employees in federal court. I have conducted jury trials in both federal court and state court, thereby evincing an experienced, working understanding of federal and state rules of evidence as well as federal and state rules of procedure.