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Voters to decide 2 appellate court nominations

Published May 14. 2011 09:02AM

Carbon County voters will participate in statewide balloting for two appellate court positions on Tuesday, May 17.

The electorate will determine Democratic and Republican nominations for seats on the state Superior and Commonwealth courts. The local voters will have a choice to make for the Republican nomination for Superior Court. Meanwhile, voters in both parties have decisions to make regarding the Commonwealth Court nomination.

Voting will take place from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 17, in each of the 51 election precincts in the county.

Superior Court

A 10-year term on the Superior Court is at stake. David N. Wecht of Allegheny County is unopposed on the Democratic side of the ballot and awaits the winner of a two-person race on the GOP side. Its candidates are Vic Stabile of Cumberland County and Paula A. Patrick of Philadelphia.

The Superior Court to hear appeals from certain decisions of the courts of common pleas of the Commonwealth, including family matters, such as child custody, visitation, adoption, divorce, and support; criminal cases; matters concerning wills and estates; property disputes; and those involving damages for breach of contract or personal injury.

The Superior Court is often the final arbiter of legal disputes in Pennsylvania. Although the Supreme Court may grant a petition for an appeal from a decision of the Superior Court, in the large majority of cases such petitions are denied. Appeals allowed to the United States Supreme Court are even more infrequent.

Wecht, 49, has served on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas since 2003. In January, he began serving in the Civil Division, where he presides in a variety of jury and non-jury trials.

Prior to taking the bench, he was twice elected as Allegheny County's Register of Wills and Clerk of Orphan's Court.

Stabile, 53, of Middlesex Township, Cumberland County, has been an attorney with Dilworth Paxson, LLP, since 1987 and a partner since 1992. He was a trial lawyer with the state attorney general's office from 1984-87. Before that, Stabile was a law clerk working for Commonwealth Court.

Paula Patrick, 43, of Philadelphia, presides in the Family Court Division of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, where she has served since 2003.

Previously, she established a law office in the city in 1993, working in general litigation and in the areas of criminal defense, personal injury, workers' compensation, family law and municipal bond finance.

Commonwealth Court

Both parties will decide nominees for a 10-year seat on the Commonwealth Court. The Democratic candidates are Kathryn Boockvar of Bucks County and Barbara Behrend-Ernsberger of Allegheny County, while the GOP candidates are Paul P. Panepinto of Philadelphia and Anne Covey of Bucks County.

The Commonwealth Court serves as both an appellate court and a trial court, depending on the type of case before it. Its jurisdiction relates primarily to legal matters involving state and local government and regulatory agencies. Cases heard by the court are primarily in the areas of employment and labor practices, including Unemployment Compensation and Workers' Compensation; elections, land use and zoning, insurance, Banking, Taxation and utility regulation.

The Commonwealth Court also serves as a court of original jurisdiction, or trial court, when lawsuits are filed by or against the Commonwealth. It is made up of nine judges, who sit in Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, generally assigned in three-judge panels to decide each case.

Boockvar, 42, has been a civil rights attorney in state and federal courts for 17 years. From 2008-2010, she served as a senior attorney for the Advancement Project, and previously for 10 years was a managing partner of the law firm of Boockvar & Yeager

Behrend-Ernsberger, 60, of Pittsburgh, is a founding partner of the law firm of Behrend and Ernsberger, Pittsburgh, a firm which is primarily engaged in trial practice in family law and workers' compensation, and insurance and consumer fraud.

Panepinto, 61, is presently a judge in the Civil Trial Division of the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia. He worked as a probation officer and attorney at law before his appointment to the bench in 1990. He was then elected in 1991 and later retained for a 10-year term, that commenced in 2002. Covey, 51, has been an attorney for 26 years and is seeking elected office for the first time. She and her firm, Covey & Associates, with offices in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, represent businesses in labor and workplace cases. In the 1980s, she was a law clerk to Commonwealth Court President Judge David Craig.

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