HOLLIDAYSBURG — Several candidates may be pending for a vacant Blair County judicial seat, who will be nominated by the governor and approved by the Senate.
As of Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf’s office had yet to release the names of the candidates or their candidacies for the seat vacated by Judge Daniel J. Milliron in late December.
The Altoona Mirror made the request to the governor’s office after Monday’s deadline for applications expired, based on a 2021 Commonwealth Court ruling finding that applications for judicial office cannot should not be kept secret.
Wolf’s communications office said the Mirror’s request was being reviewed.
Meanwhile, State Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, said Friday she met with seven potential court candidates who talked about applying for the vacancy.
Democratic Commissioner Laura Burke said she met with five or six of the interested judicial candidates.
Neither Ward nor Burke revealed the names of the candidates they spoke with, and Ward indicated that not all of the candidates may have approached her.
Burke, who is the county court system liaison commissioner, said there was agreement among county leaders that the county needed an interim judge.
Since Milliron retired from full-time judge status at the end of December, he has served the county part-time as senior judge.
The other full-time judges — Elizabeth Doyle, Wade A. Kagarise, Timothy M. Sullivan and Jackie A. Bernard — meanwhile are trying to manage a backlog of cases that has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sullivan also announced his intention to take early retirement at the end of 2022.
Burke told the Mirror that so far she has not been contacted by the governor’s office regarding any of the candidates.
In previous years, it was common for a governor to work with a committee of local leaders who would make a recommendation, usually someone from the same political party. While Wolf is a Democrat, the Senate is made up of 28 Republicans, 20 Democrats, one independent and one vacancy.
Burke said she understands the powers that be have agreed to a “global market” in which all recommended interim judges should be included in a single bill and that the bill should be two-thirds approved by the Senate.
In addition to receiving applications for the vacant Blair County judgeship, the governor’s office also received applications for vacant judgeships in Allegheny, Chester, Columbia-Montour, Lancaster, Lycoming, Philadelphia counties. and Schuylkill.
In addition, nominations could be submitted for vacant magistrate district judge seats, including two in Cambria County.
Ward said she doesn’t know when a decision will be made, but expects it to come “towards the end of June.”
“It’s an interesting process” she says.
Pursuant to a 2021 Commonwealth Court ruling, Wolf’s office in November released 17 applications submitted by candidates for a seat on the Commonwealth Court in 2019. Wolf filled the position in 2019 by appointing the Republican attorney Drew Compton and initially declined to release the names of the other petitioners, consistent with past practice.
Commonwealth Court Judge P. Kevin Brobson, who wrote the court’s notice ordering the publication of the nominations, said the public has a right to know who has applied to be considered for a seat to be filled by appointment to the office of governor, just as he would know the names of the candidates. on a ballot.
Paula Knudsen Burke, lawyer for the Journalists Committee for Freedom of the Press, said the Mirror’s request for the names of the candidates and supporting details was valid. She speculated that the delay could mean time for the removal of information exempt from public disclosure.
“The bottom line is that names should be readily available,” said the media lawyer. “And apps, with redactions to address privacy concerns, should follow.”
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens can be reached at 814-946-7456.