Attorneys running for 2 open York County judge positions fielded questions at online forum

STAFF REPORT
The York Dispatch

York County Common Pleas Court judge candidates and local attorneys Joe Gothie, Suzanne Smith and Steve Stambaugh answered questions Tuesday night during a candidates' forum.

All three have practiced law in York County for decades.

Asked what factors are the most important for voters to consider when electing a judge, Smith and Stambaugh both cited experience and temperament.

Gothie cited the importance of judges having "a deep sense of humility" and also said being a well-rounded problem-solver is important.

"You want a lawyer who can step in any of those roles and hit the ground running," Smith said, adding voters should look for someone who is nonpartisan, fair and impartial.

Stambaugh said he also thinks it's important to have a judge who knows how to run a business and that voters want to elect judges who share their values.

Asked about the York County Court system's most pressing need, Stambaugh said he "would not deign to know" at this point. He noted that York County's judges bear "an incredible caseload" and said the court needs skilled, effective judges.

"We are constantly down judges," he said.

York attorney Joe Gothie

Gothie said he believes newly elected judges must listen to their colleagues to truly know what issues are most pressing.

Smith said the most pressing need she sees is addressing mental-health issues and addiction issues as they relate to court cases, whether in criminal, family or civil court.

All three were asked what can be done to best assure juveniles in the court system get put on a positive track.

"Our partnerships with schools are going to assist us in going forward," Smith said, adding that some schools have brought in social workers to help children with their issues. "Their brains are not fully developed."

York attorney Suzanne Smith

Truancy, Smith said, is  a big issue itself but also can be an indicator of problems at home. Addressing it early is important, she said.

Gothie — who, like Smith, has experience as a school board member — said when kids get in trouble, school officials often learn there are issues at home such as broken homes, neglect, child abuse or substance abuse. He said some schoolchildren are homeless.

"It really made me think about and assess the needs of the people at the margins of society," he said. "Fix them when they're young to make sure they don't come back to court."

Smith continues to serve as a West York Area school board member, and Gothie previously served as a school board member for Central York School District.

York attorney Steve Stambaugh

Stambaugh said juvenile issues are part of a larger societal problem and that there's "a lot of social decay." But he also noted that police become involved in juvenile matters now that they didn't get involved with 40 years ago.

"If there's not a firm rudder at home, of course you're going to have errant ships," he said.

The entire 96-minute forum can be seen on White Rose Community TV's YouTube channel

As it has done in the past, the York County Bar Association is polling its members about the qualifications of the three judicial candidates, association President Chris Ferro said at the close of the forum.

The results are slated to be released to the public on Friday, May 7, he said.