York County judicial candidates took the stage at York College's Evelyn and Earle Wolf Hall on Wednesday night to answer questions and voice their opinions.
The auditorium was filled with residents who spent nearly two hours listening to the nine contenders speak about the position of judge. Three seats are open in the York County Court of Common Pleas, and the winners will serve 10-year terms.
Topics discussed Wednesday night ranged from drug treatment court to how religious beliefs might affect rulings.
Discussion: The nine candidates were separated into three groups of three, and each group was asked a different question.
Candidates Clyde Vedder, Chuck Hobbs and Matt Menges were asked if their religious beliefs would affect how they would sentence someone.
Vedder said judges have a duty to look at cases "fairly, impartially and most importantly ... without bias," and he added he would not bring any religious beliefs into his decision-making.
Hobbs said he might turn to God for guidance but said he would go into the position with his eyes "wide open."
Menges said his Christian faith would affect how he treats people in the courtroom but little else.
"It will not affect the decisions that I make," he said.
Candidates Tim Barker, Amber Anstine Kraft and Judge Kathleen Prendergast — who was appointed to the bench to fill an unexpired term and is now running for a full 10-year term — were asked about disciplining lawyers and if they would make any changes to the system.
Kraft said she thought the current system is effective.
"I do know a lot of attorneys who do not want to be disciplined, so it does work as a deterrent," Kraft said.
Prendergast agreed, saying that the system works slowly but effectively.
Barker said he thinks the process is not as open as it could be.
Candidates Peter Vaughn, Jim Mann and Sandra Thompson were asked what reform, if any, is needed in the judicial system.
Vaughn said he felt the system worked but added that he would like to see more technology integrated into the judicial system.
Mann agreed that he thought the system worked. He did say he would like to see the "one family, one judge" system implemented in York County, so a judge can be familiar with one family throughout all of their potential cases.
Thompson said she wished the process had more accessibility for all people of York County.
Final responses: All nine were asked what their "final takeaways" from the night were, and the responses varied.
"We have to have people believe in what we do," Barker said.
Kraft, Menges, Thompson and Prendergast all mentioned drug treatment in their takeaways.
Hobbs said he believes the judge position would allow him to be an "agent of change" for the community.
Vedder said he believed in the system, calling it the "best judicial system" in the world.
Mann said he wants to restore the public's trust in the government.
Vaughn said he thinks the judge position is a force for good.
“I think society as a whole is getting worse, and the role of the judicial branch needs to reinforce the positive values in society," he said.
The forum was just less than three weeks before Pennsylvania's primary election on May 16.
— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at email@example.com or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.