CLARION – What are the ideal qualities to look for in a judge?
Three candidates for Clarion County Court of Common Pleas offered their own thoughts last week at the Clarion Main Street Center in a forum/debate hosted by the Clarion County League of Women Voters.
Mark Aaron, Sara Seidle-Patton, and Erich Spessard were all asked by the LWV what traits they look for in a judge and how they embody them. All three have cross-filed for the primary election, meaning their names will appear on both the Democratic and Republican ballots on May 21.
Integrity, leadership, compassion, experience and judicial temperament were among the characteristics mentioned by the candidates. Here are their individual responses:
“The three traits that I picked out are integrity, leadership and compassion. The reason I picked those are because if a judge lacks any of those qualities, you simply cannot be a good judge.
“If you don’t have integrity, how can we trust what you say? If they don’t have leadership, how are we going to know they will make the tough call when half or more of the courtroom aren’t going to like it? And if you don’t have compassion, how do we know your decision will be fair?
“I would argue that I exhibit these characteristics because they are what I do every single day. As public defender, much as Mr. Aaron said, I have to serve clients independent of what I feel and give them the best representation I possibly can at all times because that’s what the Constitution demands and that’s what integrity demands.
“In terms of leadership, I lead a county department to make sure that each and every one of your tax dollars are spent in the most efficient way possible, because that’s your money at the same time.
“Compassion is essential because what we make of ‘cases,’ while we may call them cases, these cases are all about people. Every single person that walks into my office is dealing with something that is one of their most important things in their entire life, just like everybody that goes into the courthouse. Not every case is a murder trial. Not every case is a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, but that doesn’t make it any less and it doesn’t make it any less to each and every person that’s up there in court.”
“The three traits that I look for in a judge are experience, integrity and leadership.
“Our judge needs to be prepared to handle every case that comes before them in the courthouse, not just some of them.
“In a one-judge county like ours, in the morning our judge could hear a custody case, in the afternoon a property case, and prepare for a full day of CYS court the next day. We need a judge that is ready to handle all of the cases on day one. I am the only candidate who is ready to handle all of this.
“I am the only candidate that provides that experience with my practice of law and am ready to handle every case that comes through the doors of the courthouse. As a small-town attorney with a private practice, my caseload mirrors a judge in our county caseload.
“Integrity: What is it? Integrity is more than just fairness. A consistent fairness that you can rely on. I think it’s something that is exhibited over time and you can ask the people that I work with on a regular basis and the activities that I am involved with. I believe that they would tell you I demonstrate that consistent fairness in all aspects of my life.
“Our judge is a leader in more ways than one. As leader of our court system, they create the culture for our work. I have to be a leader every day for my clients, my staff, the county and many work and community relationships.”
“Legal ability and experience are what you should look for in a judge. I have primarily practiced criminal law, just by being district attorney for the last 20 years, but prior to becoming district attorney my practice included representing child welfare cases, custody cases in divorce cases, and in civil litigation. I have experience in all areas of the law, but obviously with my jury trial experience and being the only candidate who has had experience in homicide trials and the only candidate with major criminal trial experience lasting more than a week long, I believe that exemplifies experience.
“Trust and integrity are the second attribute. In my campaign I am not accepting contributions in the Primary from any outside contributors. My campaign is self-funded, and I have had one private client in the last 14 years. My only client for 14 years has been the people of Clarion County. There will be no instances of conflict of interest or outside influences. I’ve been trusted in five elections as District Attorney.
“Judicial temperament is the third thing you must show as a judge. You must show that you are fair and impartial. When I was a public defender and ran for DA, they said I was too much of a defense attorney to be DA. Twenty years later, people say I’m too much of a prosecutor to be a judge. I can assure you that if I’m elected judge, I will be a fair and impartial arbiter because the system only works when everybody does their job. I will no longer be an advocate as I was, I will be a fair judge.”
Candidates were also permitted opening statements, outlining why they are running for judge.
of Erich Spessard:
“I am running because I love Clarion County. I am running because I love this county. And community. I may not have been born here and I may not have been raised here, but every ounce of happiness I have in my life I owe to this county.
“I met my wife here, I fell in love here, and we are expecting our child here. It’s truly magical what this place has brought to me and that’s why what I wanted this campaign to be about this community.
“That’s why I personally have gone out and knocked on about 1,300 doors and my wife also knocked on a couple hundred. I’ve been all over the place from St. Petersburg to Hawthorn, to Kossuth, to New Bethlehem, and everywhere in between. I wanted to demonstrate to the people of Clarion County that I have the drive, work ethic, and strength of character to prove to you that the person who wants to be in this position has to be someone you can trust. I have always felt the best way to show that trust is to show it through your work; I love it.
“Even though I love my job as public defender and even though I love standing as a stalwart for the rights in our Constitution, I know I can do more as a judge.”
Opening Statement of Sara Seidle-Patton:
“I am a Clarion County native; I am a wife, a mother, an attorney, and I am now a candidate for Clarion County Judge. I was born and raised here in Clarion County and grew up in Clarion Borough. I went to Clarion Area High School and I went on to college at Mercyhurst and earned a degree in political science and communication. After college I returned home to New Bethlehem and worked at The Leader-Vindicator for a time. My goal was to be a journalist and I got to do that right here in Clarion County. My next passion was becoming an attorney and I studied at Duquesne Law School.
“After graduating from Duquesne, my husband Michael and I decided we were going to return home to Clarion County to start our life together and our careers. Thirteen years ago, I had my first job as an assistant district attorney in Clarion County. In that role, I developed a solid foundation in the practice of criminal law. I prosecuted cases ranging from theft, DUI, drug offenses, sexual offenses, and offenses involving children as victims. It gave me a solid background to move into private practice and I’ve had the opportunity to practice in a wide range of law areas. I am called on to be a leader every day by my clients and my staff.”
of Mark Aaron:
“I have been your district attorney for the last 20 years and I’ve been a lifelong resident of Clarion County. I’m 53 years old and I grew up here and went to Clarion-Limestone High School and played a little bit of football in high school and college. I always knew that I wanted to make this area my home. When I became an attorney, I didn’t start in the DA office; I started in the public defender’s office, similar to the work that Mr. Spessard does now.
“I think that in the public defender’s office you learn a lot about the law. You don’t pick and choose the cases that come your way. If someone comes in through the door you defend that individual regardless of the charges, regardless of your opinion of that individual.
“I learned from being on both sides of the law the rights of individuals, the rights of people have in our Constitution are so important. This puts me in a good position to protect the rights of litigants and individuals that come before us.
“Obviously, I have a lot of experience as district attorney for 20 years. I’ve tried 118 jury trials, seven homicide trials, and I put forward a plan to revamp our court systems which includes starting a motions court, starting a parent coordination program in custody cases, revamping probation services to get individuals off drugs instead of the endless cycle of arrest and jail. Also, I want to streamline the processes of getting prisoners to state prisons. I want to get them there quicker and in an economical fashion and to modernize our courts with modern technology.”