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LAWRENCE COUNTY Candidates for judge stress their experience



Published: Sun, May 13, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The position was created last year to ease backlogs in the court system.

By LAURE CIOFFI

VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU

NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Lawrence County voters will make the first cut Tuesday when they pare down the list for judge for county common pleas court.

Three longtime lawyers are vying for the spot created last November by the state Legislature after local officials petitioned for the extra judge.

There are now three full-time judges in the county.

President Judge Ralph D. Pratt has said adding a fourth full-time judge should cut down on backlogs in the court calendar and eliminate the need for court masters. Masters are attorneys appointed by the court to hear matters that the judges do not have time to handle.

One master now handles juvenile matters and another handles property disputes in divorces.

Cross-filed: Winners in this race will face off in the November general election for the 10-year term. Voters could decide the race on Tuesday, however, if Republicans and Democrats pick the same person. All three candidates have cross-filed, something Pennsylvania judicial candidates are permitted to do.

The three candidates have extensive legal experience and have sought office before.

Susan M. Papa, Thomas M. Piccione and John W. Hodge were candidates in 1999 when J. Craig Cox won a seat as the county's third judge. That position opened up when Judge Glenn McCracken retired.

Experience: The candidates say state law prohibits them from talking about opinions on issues during an election, and all have focused on their legal experience.

Papa, who now serves as juvenile court master, has worked for the county courts as a clerk, a solicitor for authorities and boards, and an assistant district attorney.

"The various positions I have held have each brought a different aspect of the law and distinct pool of knowledge of substantive and procedural law. With a general practice, I have gained a broad base of experience in all areas of the law," she said.

She wants to use her experience as a juvenile master to establish community programs for children and families. Papa says her priority will be to maintain public confidence in the judiciary system by working diligently and offering close attention to every case presented.

Hodge, who now serves as the county solicitor, also has worked for various authorities and boards as well as in private practice. He cites his 25 years of legal experience as his qualification for the position.

"My priority if elected will be to be a firm, fair and compassionate judge who will follow the law," he said.

Piccione, who is now the solicitor for the New Castle School District, also has extensive private practice experience as an attorney.

He has worked as an assistant district attorney and a domestic relations enforcement officer.

"I will do my very best to assure the courts are always accessible and fair to everyone no matter what his or her station in life and that my decisions are rendered swiftly and impartially," he said.




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