York County lawyers rate 3 county judge candidates in bar association poll

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
2019 York County Bar Association judicial-candidate poll results

Local attorneys have weighed in on the qualifications of three candidates vying to fill one judicial vacancy on the York County Court of Common Pleas.

The York County Bar Association recently conducted a poll of its 486 members regarding the candidates, and 275 of the members — or 57% — responded, according to association CEO Victoria Connor.

Of the 275 attorneys, 49% rated candidate Jonelle Harter Eshbach as "highly qualified," with another 32% rating her "qualified," according to a news release from the bar association.

About 7.25% rated her as "not presently qualified," while about 11.6% had no opinion about Eshbach.

About 2.5% of responding attorneys rated candidate Matt Menges as "highly qualified," while another 20% rated him as "qualified," according to the bar association.

Nearly 58% of the attorneys rated Menges as "not presently qualified," while close to 20% had no opinion about him, the poll states.

Matt Menges is the son of current York County Common Pleas Judge Chris Menges.

Four percent of respondents found Sandra Thompson to be "highly qualified," with another roughly 14.2% rating her as "qualified," according to the poll.

About 66.5% of the attorneys rated Thompson as "not presently qualified," with another 15% having no opinion.

York County attorneys Jonelle Harter Eshbach, Matt Menges and Sandra Thompson (from left to right) are running for one judicial vacancy on the York County Court of Common Pleas.

The York County Bar Association released the results on Wednesday, April 24, according to a news release.

Candidates respond: Eshbach said she was thrilled to know that many of her colleagues rate her skills highly.

"To have the respect and approval of my peers is really humbling and a great honor," she said. "That means more, I think, than any other kind of endorsement."

Eshbach said she's also proud of her endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police.

Thompson said she doesn't believe the poll is an accurate representation of a candidate's qualifications. It's her third run for judge, and each poll has been negative about her, she said.

She said the Pennsylvania Bar Association has a panel that interviews candidates, reviews their experience, then makes ratings. In York County, individual attorneys weigh in.

"It comes down to who you know and who you have relationships with," Thompson said. "So for me, as a solo practitioner, I see a limited number of attorneys on a routine basis."

Roughly 50 attorneys rated Thompson as either qualified or highly qualified, and she said that's about the number of attorneys she works with regularly.

"I've always reached out to the public and ... let my good work speak for me," she said. "That's what I continue to do — to go to as many public forums as a I can and continue ... fighting for my clients to be seen and heard. That rubs some people the wrong way."

Menges could not be reached for comment Thursday.

About the poll: The bar association poll asked local attorneys who are association members to evaluate candidates on their professional qualifications, including competence, judicial temperament and integrity, the release states.

For the purposes of the poll, "competence" includes such qualities as intellectual capacity, judgment, knowledge of the law, experience and years of practice, according to the bar association.

The poll's "temperament" category encompasses qualities such as compassion, decisiveness, open-mindedness, freedom from bias and commitment to justice.

The "integrity" portion of the poll focuses on candidates' character and general reputation in the legal community and the York County community, according to the bar association.

2019 York County Bar Association judicial-candidate poll results

Candidates forum: Eshbach, Menges and Thompson will participate in a candidates forum next week that is free and open to the public and is meant to help inform voters, according to the bar association.

The forum will be held from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 30, at York College's Wolf Hall, and it will be moderated by Professor G. Terry Madonna, director for the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College.

Candidates will meet and greet the public between 6:30 and 7 p.m., at which point the question-and-answer period begins.

The York County Bar Association has been conducting the judicial poll for many years as a public service, according to the release.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.