York County candidates for judge field questions


The seven candidates for the York County Court of Common Pleas fielded questions during a forum Tuesday, ranging from how their religious faith will factor into how they'll judge to how they'd preside over cases involving youth offenders.

G. Terry Madonna, a professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, moderated the forum, sponsored by the York Bar Association. It was held at the HACC campus in York City.

The candidates for the two open seats on the Court of Common Pleas are York County Solicitor Mike Flannelly, District Judge Tom Reilly and attorneys Karen Comery, Chris Menges, Carl Anderson, Kathleen Prendergast and Neil Slenker.

All cross-filed as Democrats and Republicans, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State, meaning their names will appear on both ballots in the primary.

The primary is Tuesday, May 19.

Common Pleas judges serve 10-year terms and are paid $176,572 annually.

Here's a brief look at what each of the candidates had to say:

Question: What can be done to best ensure a positive direction for youth in the judicial system?

•Reilly hears truancy violations and other cases involving minors while serving as the Seven Valleys-area district judge. He said he works to put the youth on the correct path while seeking out what caused the legal problems

"That's really key, trying to determine what is at the root of the problem. Whether it be the family, whether it be something in the child's schooling," he said. "Then be able to devise the appropriate remedy to make certain it doesn't happen again."

•Comery said her experience working in the district attorney's office supervising the juvenile crime unit has shown her that the root of the problem in most cases is the lack of family support for a minor.

"What needs to be looked at is what we need to do to get to these kids earlier," she said. "We need to look at what's going with families and offer services earlier, before (youth) get involved in the juvenile system."

She added some punishments need to be a little more harsh, but sometimes all it takes is a few words from an authority figure.

•Menges said a judge needs to make sure foster care is the absolute last resort for children in dependency cases.

•"I would like to see more emphasis on kinship care," he said. "They are (family members) whomever the child know and feel confident with and feel loved with. Those resources could just make a tremendous difference in each and every child's life."

Question: Do you believe juries fairly represent the public?

•Slenker said the typical jury composition is often made up of retired folks.

"People my age, working professionals, will do what they can to avoid serving on jury duty," he said. "That's a real problem. One of the ways we have to deal with that is to be stricter in terms of ... what sort of excuses we'll accept to get out of jury duty."

•Anderson said the process of jury section can be used to get minorities off juries.

"It's a complicated issue," he said. "The process by which juries are selected reflects a certain inherent bias we obviously have to strive to overcome."

•Flannelly said the litigant's faith is critically important.

"If you don't believe coming into that courtroom that that jury is selected from your peers, you're not going to have faith in the ultimate result," he said, adding increasing the number of people with different ethnic backgrounds has to be a systemic change.

•Prendergast said the more methods used to create jury pools, the more we'll draw from the population at large.

"If you have a disproportionate number of criminal defendants that are African-American or Hispanic but a jury pool that is all white, it does not give the appearance that it is a just system," she said. "I think we all have a responsibility to be sure there isn't systemic bias."

Question: How will your religious faith factor into how you judge cases?

•Reilly said faith is an important part of his life, serves as a guidance and affects decisions that are made.

"I think it's very important to have that ... in a judge," he said.

•Comery said she has been a longtime church attendee and served on the church council and as a Sunday school and vacation Bible school teacher but never professes to be "that religious."

"I don't profess to be that religious, and I do miss Sunday services, but I try to live my life accounting to my faith," she said, adding faith does affect decisions made in everyday life.

•Menges said faith is a fundamental part of his life and bears to his qualifications for judge.

"Every human being is made in the image of God," he said. "Fundamentally every person who would come in front of me would be treated as though he or she were made in the image of God."

•Slenker pointed that he attends the same church as Reilly and Flannelly and joked the church has a committee called "Running for Judge."

On a more serious tone, Slenker said he is a man of faith but a flawed one.

"There are going to be laws and decisions that are going to have to be made by a judge that may be inconsistent with the things that you believe as a Christian," he said. "If I have to enforce a law that's inconsistent with what I personally believe, I'm going to do that."

•Anderson said his faith manifests in how he lives his life.

"One of the most important commandments as reflected in the scripture is to love thy neighbor as thy self," he said. "That's how I try to live my life."

•Flannelly said he turned to prayer when serving on the York County bench. He was appointed to a vacant post in 2012 and held the seat for a year and a half.

"There were many cases when you just look at the file and you knew you were going to need help," he said.

•Prendergast's faith affects how she deals with people on a daily basis.

"But as a judge you have to apply the law," she said. "You don't get to put your personal preferences in that."

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.