Many Philadelphia Common Pleas and Municipal Court judges live in places such as Center City, Chestnut Hill and Andorra, but several Northeast candidates look poised for victory in Tuesday’s primary election.
Meanwhile, a couple of area Traffic Court candidates are promising to clean up the trouble there.
Judicial candidates are permitted to file in both major parties, but the winners of the Democratic primary are all but assured of victory in November’s general election.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Among the candidates in the 20-person race for Common Pleas Court are Northeast residents Anne Marie Coyle, Joe Fernandes, Dan McCaffery, John J. O’Connor Jr. and Frank Bennett. The top six finishers advance to the general election.
Bennett, who lives in Northwood, is also in the race for Municipal Court, along with incumbent Judge Fran Shields, his former Glenview Street neighbor.
Coyle, a Republican from the Far Northeast, used the luck of the Irish to pull the top ballot position. Democratic Party boss Bob Brady wants her defeated in favor of the party-endorsed candidates. However, she’s a tenacious campaigner and is expected to have union support on Election Day, making her a favorite to win.
Fernandes, a Somerton resident and 1983 graduate of Cardinal Dougherty High School, has the party endorsement, union support and a recommendation from the Philadelphia Bar Association.
“Anybody who comes in front of me will always get a fair trial and open mind. I’ll listen to the facts,” he said during a campaign appearance last week at the Dacha Adult Day Care in Bustleton.
McCaffery, of East Torresdale, ran for district attorney in 2009 and ran briefly for attorney general last year. He’s been recommended by the bar association, endorsed by the party and has the backing of groups ranging from the black clergy to Liberty City Democratic Club, a gay organization.
If elected, he plans to oversee a formal courtroom with decorum.
A 1982 Father Judge graduate, his community involvement includes coaching Judge’s rugby team and sitting on the school’s board of advisers, serving as a member of the East Torresdale Civic Association and sitting on the board of the Self-Help drug treatment facility.
“I’m about as Northeast as you come,” he said. “Hopefully, the people in the Northeast will turn out.”
McCaffery was one of the attorneys who represented businesses opposed to a methadone clinic on State Road in Holmesburg. Now that clinic operators have won a case in front of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, Bennett is handling the appeal pro bono.
Bennett, who does not have party backing, is a former vice president of Northwood Civic Association. He is leading the effort to reopen the Northwood Frankford Community Y.
On the campaign trail, Bennett has been attending ward fundraisers, meeting committee people and talking about litigating more than 2,000 cases.
“I’m an experienced attorney. I’ve tried more cases than anybody in Municipal Court,” he said.
Bennett and Shields are among eight candidates seeking three spots on Municipal Court.
Shields, of Lawndale, has party backing, the bar association recommendation, a lot of union support and almost 24 years as an attorney. He was appointed to Municipal Court by Gov. Tom Corbett, serving since last July.
“It’s a really hard job, but a rewarding job. I love every minute of it,” he said.
A Cardinal Dougherty graduate, he became a sprinkler fitter, but continued his education, earning an industrial relations degree from St. Joseph’s and his law degree from Temple. He lost a 2009 bid for Common Pleas Court.
“You have to have life experiences to give you the common sense to handle people and the problems they bring before you,” he said.
The local candidates in the Traffic Court race are David Mamikonyan, Ryan Mulvey, Jose Figueroa and Donna DeRose.
Twenty-five candidates are running, and the top three finishers will be nominated.
In January, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced a grand jury indictment of 12 people affiliated with Traffic Court, including nine current or former judges. Three of those judges have already pleaded guilty.
The charges stemmed from family and friends of judges and employees being acquitted for moving violations at a much higher rate than the general public.
The state legislature is considering eliminating the court and transferring its responsibilities to Municipal Court.
DeRose opposes that move because she believes a backlog of cases will be created in Municipal Court.
A Fox Chase resident, she is listed next to last on the ballot, but has plenty going for her. She has the party endorsement and backing by numerous unions, and has campaigned across the city.
“I feel very confident about winning,” she said. “If I win, I will conduct myself with professionalism, honesty and integrity.”
DeRose has been a paralegal and worked for 15 years as a state auditor. In that time, she’s audited courthouses and developed knowledge of the motor vehicle code. She hopes voters don’t choose the first three candidates listed on the ballot.
“I hope John Q. Public has done his homework,” she said.
Mulvey is a lifelong resident of Rhawnhurst and chief of staff to state Rep. John Sabatina Jr. He is not backed by the party.
“I’m beholden to no one,” he said. “I haven’t had a fundraiser. I haven’t taken a dollar from anyone.”
Mulvey’s background includes working as an interviewer in Municipal Court cases involving landlord issues and small claims. He was also a personal assistant to a Common Pleas Court judge. He thinks he is a good evaluator of truth and character.
“People expect a fair and impartial judge. It’s that simple. That’s a prerequisite,” he said.
In other races, District Attorney Seth Williams is unopposed in the Democratic primary, as is Republican challenger Danny Alvarez.
City Controller Alan Butkovitz has two Democratic primary opponents, Brett Mandel and Mark Zecca. Republican Terry Tracy is unopposed.
A seat is open on Superior Court. Republican Vic Stabile is unopposed. The Democratic primary features judges Joe Waters of Philadelphia Municipal Court and Jack McVay of Allegheny County Common Pleas Court. Waters has the backing of the state party.
In an effort to relieve confusion at polling places that have multiple divisions, the city election commissioners will provide maps to assist citizens in determining the correct table to cast the vote.
The maps can be downloaded at phillyelection.com
“The city commissioners office is committed to improving the voting process for all Philadelphians,” said Commissioner Al Schmidt. ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org