Gov. Ed Rendell upped the ante in an obscure state Supreme Court primary this spring when he vowed to campaign and raise money for Philadelphia President Judge C. Darnell Jones II, a respected jurist the Democratic party spurned.
Four Democrats and three Republicans are seeking nominations for two open seats on the state's highest court in the May 15 primary. The openings were created by the departure of a pair of justices who had been targeted in 2005 by voters angry about the legislative pay raise. Voters ousted one on a retention vote and the other retired.
Rendell chastised state Democrats who spurned Jones by endorsing an east-west ticket of Superior Court Judges Seamus P. McCaffery of Philadelphia and Debra Todd of Cranberry. The state Bar Association's Judicial Evaluation Commission gave Todd and Jones higher recommendations than McCaffery.
Philadelphia Judge Willis W. Berry Jr., rounds out the Democratic ballot. Berry, the only candidate the commission ranked "not recommended," drew the top ballot position. "Maybe that will level the playing field a little," he said.
Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said statewide judicial elections often swing on name identification, gender, geography or ballot position.
Many believe Philadelphia's heated Democratic mayoral primary will boost turnout there and create an edge for that region's candidates.
"Unfortunately, the main factor is not qualification," Marks said. "That doesn't mean there aren't often highly qualified candidates, but they don't win because they're qualified. They win because of something else."
Todd, 49, is running her third statewide campaign. She won a 1997 statewide primary, then lost a general election bid for Superior Court in 1997 before winning in 1999.
"The biggest challenge is keeping up your energy and making it everywhere you're supposed to be," Todd said.
McCaffery, 56, an outspoken, Harley-riding jurist who climbed from beat cop to Superior Court judge, has been barnstorming the state since his election in 2003.
"I can out-campaign anyone," McCaffery said.
Jones, 57, has served on the Philadelphia bench for 20 years. A former public defender, he teaches at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and for the National Judicial College.
On the GOP ballot, Philadelphia Judge Paul Panepinto, 58, who was ranked highly qualified by the bar's evaluation commission, tops the ballot. He faces the Republican party's endorsed ticket of Superior Court Judge Maureen Lally-Green, 57, of Cranberry, who also was "highly recommended," and Michael Krancer, 49, of Montgomery County, who was ranked "recommended."
Krancer, who survived a court challenge to his candidacy, resigned from his post as a judge on the state Environmental Hearing Board in April after being reminded of a policy that bars sitting executive agency officials from seeking elective office.
Although the GOP race remains relatively low-key, Lally-Green, who was appointed to Superior Court in 1998, then won election in 1999, said that doesn't mean the pace is less hectic. She said it likely will remain that way through the fall for the primary winners.
Republicans (Choose two):
Michael L. Krancer
Residence: Montgomery County
Family: Wife, Barbara Alden Brown; four children
Education: Bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Virginia, 1976; law degree from Washington and Lee University School of Law, 1983
Occupation: Appointed judge of the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board in 1999
Previous elective office: None
Public service/activities/organizations: Serves on the boards of the Lower Merion Township Environmental Advisory Board, the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network, the Brodsky Institute for Blood …