The fundamental issue in the race for Common Pleas Court judge manifested early and remains the measuring stick by which voters are evaluating retired U.S. Rep. Todd Platts and Judge Mike Flannelly.
Voters will ultimately decide whether they want Platts, who spent 20 years using his law degree as a state and federal legislator, or Flannelly, who has practiced law for 30 years and was appointed judge last year after Judge Chuck Patterson died unexpectedly.
The men made their cases before about 200 people who attended a debate Thursday, sponsored by the York 912 Patriots, York's tea party.
Flannelly had been handed a victory earlier in the day, when the York County Bar Association's poll showed his qualifications dominating Platts among area lawyers.
Flannelly had demonstrated the poll's importance thoroughly enough for moderator Mark Swomley, a Springettsbury Township supervisor candidate, to announce he was skipping a poll-related question.
But there were numerous other distinctions between the men, each of whom had five minutes to address the crowd before fielding questions crafted by 912 members.
Differing approach: Flannelly emphasized his experience as a sitting judge since being appointed last year, taking mostly juvenile delinquency cases and juvenile drug court.
"There's no time to look things up," he said, emphasizing his years of litigation give him an edge in making the quick, at-the-bench decisions that need to be made.
Platts said his decision to seek the bench after being a legislator isn't unique; both Judge Michael E. Bortner and Judge Gregory M. Snyder had been legislators.
Their strong legislative background gave them a unique perspective on the law, he said.
The candidates were asked to identify a major issue facing the courts and how they'll address it.
Platts offered that driving while intoxicated is a growing problem; he arrived more than an hour late to the debate because he was attending a viewing for Chief Rodney Miller, who was struck by an allegedly drunk driver while attending to a DUI-related crash last Saturday, Platts said.
He said he would be proactive, working to prevent DUI from beyond the bench, out in the community.
Flannelly said the courts need to move to more evidence-based practices, taking measures because data has proven them effective instead of relying on anecdotes.
Both men were asked how to improve court efficiency.
Flannelly again touted his experience, saying the best way to be efficient is to have the knowledge needed to quickly process cases.
Platts said he would focus more on treatment courts, diversionary programs whose graduates re-offend at lower rates than traditionally tried defendants.
Swomley asked the candidates how to reduce crime in York City.
Platts said drugs are the underlying cause of violent crime. He again suggested possible expansion of treatment courts to reduce the number of drug-addicted people and, thusly, the demand for drugs.
Flannelly offered that his experiences with troubled juveniles have demonstrated the change needs to start in their homes. The broken family structure needs to be addressed, he said.
One each: Both candidates had won at least one vote by the end of the debate.
Carroll Tignall, 73, of Springfield Township, said Flannelly's talk of qualifications won him.
"I agree with his premise that experience counts," he said.
He said he didn't agree with Platts' assertion that his experience using the law as a legislator was just as valuable.
"Politicians are a different breed," Tignall said. "I'll just say that."
Glen Rock resident Pat Simpson, 52, said Platts' history had more pull than Flannelly's.
"He really does have a pretty good record of keeping his word," Simpson said. "It's pretty hard to find somebody that's trustworthy like that."
- Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.