Editorial: Fill the bench quickly
- The York County Court of Common Pleas has been low on judges since 2013
- Kathleen Pendergast and Christy Fawcett have been nominated for two open seats
- We believe the state Senate should act quickly to confirm the nominees
Two local women could fill two York County benches that have been empty for three long years.
The Court of Common Pleas has 15 seats but only 13 judges to put in them ever since Sheryl Ann Dorney retired in 2013, followed by Penny Blackwell in 2014. Their replacements, Michael Flannelly and Chris Menges, were sworn in in January, but by then two more judges, Thomas H. Kelley VI and John W. Thompson Jr., had retired. Judge Stephen Linebaugh had planned to retire at the end of 2015, but he pushed the date back as the benches remained empty.
Add to this that Judge Craig Trebilcock, who returned from a 10-month stay at the Army War College in Carlisle last June, was in November deployed for a 12-month tour overseas with the Army Reserve, where he holds the rank of colonel and has served for 28 years, and the court has been short three judges for most of three years.
The court has pulled in senior judges to try to ease the caseload, which was about 9,100 cases in 2014, according to the Clerk of Courts Office. But it's been tough. Linebaugh, when he was president judge, often spoke of the long hours the judges were putting in to get the job done.
"If it was based solely on what was good for the citizens of York County, we would have both positions filled," Linebaugh said in September 2014.
It's not difficult to appoint a judge to finish an unexpired term in Pennsylvania. Usually, a state senator will recommend a candidate to the governor, who then presents the nominee to the state Senate for approval.
But state Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, never nominated anyone for the seats after he was elected in March 2014. He said he saw sending a recommendation to the governor as an endorsement, and so he just never did it.
Apparently he wasn't the only one who felt that way. In March, Gov. Tom Wolf put out a call for anyone interested in the 30 open seats on local and state courts to apply, and on June 15 he announced 30 nominees for the positions.
York City attorney Kathleen Prendergast and federal prosecutor Christy Fawcett need to be confirmed by the Senate, which Wagner said he expects to happen by mid-July. Prendergast has run for judge three times. If they are confirmed, their terms would last until the end of 2017, when the seats would be up for election.
They can run for the seats in 2017, but there's no guarantee they will retain them. Just ask Judge Flannelly, who was appointed to the bench for an unexpired term, then lost the general election in 2012 to former U.S. Rep. Todd Platts.
They wouldn't be the first female judges in York County — see Dorney, above — but they would help balance a bench with two female judges already serving, Judge Maria Musti Cook and Judge Andrea Marceca Strong.
Their nominations are a step that should have been taken years ago, and the Senate should move quickly now that the names are in front of them.