Former Republican congressman Todd Platts was among those sworn in as judges in York County Monday, shifting his career from national politics to the family and juvenile concerns of the local bench.
Though trading issues such as national security and the federal budget to hear cases related to divorce, custody, and juvenile drug use, Platts said he doesn't consider the change of profession that much of a switch. Donning a judge's robe for the first time, he said his focus has been and will continue to be service to the community.
An attorney and 20-year veteran of state and national politics, Platts said it's his preference to work with youth in his new job. He benefited from being raised in a stable and loving home by parents who gave him a foundation for success, he said, and as a parent he understands the importance of a stable upbringing. He'd like to be able to contribute to that in York County's youth, thereby leaving a mark on their future and the county's future.
Platts takes the caseload of Common Pleas Judge Michael Flannelly, who was appointed to the bench after Judge Chuck Patterson died in 2011. Flannelly lost the election for the 10-year-seat to Platts.
County commissioners allowed Flannelly, the county's solicitor since 2004, a leave of absence to serve on the bench, said York County President Commissioner Steve Chronister. Monday morning Flannelly returned to his position as solicitor.
First day: The Platts household is establishing a new routine, said Leslie Platts, Todd Platts' wife. After his retirement last year, her husband had a year to spend more time with the couple's two teenage sons, and complete some long-neglected home improvements.
He painted, built some closets and helped finish the family's basement, she said.
There was also campaign work, something from which Leslie Platts said she was gladly retiring with her husband's 10-year assignment. He has said he'll run for retention once.
After 12 years of making a three- or four-hour commute to and from Washington, D.C., he has a seven-mile round-trip to the new job, she said.
Thursday will mark the 52-year-old's first day in court, presiding over the county's juvenile treatment court. He has his first custody trial Jan. 21, he said, after a week-long mandatory training session for new judges.
The former politician has been shadowing county judges since he won the election in November, he said, and he also traveled to Carlisle and Gettysburg to see the styles of juvenile judges outside York County.
He said the single most important aspect of the new job will be the people, particularly those victimized by crime and, in some cases, children victimized by their parents.
Vacancies: President Judge Stephen P. Linebaugh said Platts' contribution to the bench includes a commitment to learn the job and work hard, particularly important given the county is down two judges because of the retirements of Judge Sheryl Ann Dorney and Judge Penny L. Blackwell.
Dorney left in July, while Monday was Blackwell's last day.
It's the duty of state Sen. Mike Waugh, R-Shrewsbury Township, to recommend appointees to the open seats to be approved by the state Senate and Gov. Tom Corbett. But Waugh said he's not sure he will be making any recommendations, though there are several interested attorneys.
The process of selecting new judges is painstaking, he said, and requires a two-thirds majority for confirmation in the Senate.
If Waugh doesn't move forward, the seats will be up for election in 2015 with new judges taking their seats in early 2016. Linebaugh said he's hoping the county doesn't have to wait that long for at least one new judge, as he's concerned about backlogs due to the county's growing civil and criminal caseloads.
Also sworn in were three new district judges. They are Joel Toluba from York City's District 19-1-05, elected to fill the office that has been vacant since the retirement of District Judge Barbara Nixon; former police officer Jeffrey Oberdorff, who fills the vacant Manchester Township District 19-2-04; and Robert Eckenrode, who won the race for District 19-3-11, a new district covering Hallam, Manchester, Mount Wolf, Wrightsville, and East Manchester and Hellam townships.
-- Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.