DuBois District Judge candidates make case for position | News
DuBOIS — Six people have thrown their hats in the ring to fill a vacancy in DuBois for the Magisterial District Judge seat in the municipal primary election scheduled for May 18.
The justice seat, District 46-3-01 of Clearfield County, includes the areas of DuBois, Treasure Lake, Penfield, Luthersburg, Troutville, Falls Creek, Rockton and Grampian. A special election is being held for the seat following the retirement of Judge Patrick Ford in October.
Those cross-filing as both Republican and Democrat include: Gilbert J. Barker of Sandy Township, a Sandy Township police officer; Scott T. Farrell of Union Township, public works superintendent for City of DuBois; Attorney Elliot M. Gelfand of DuBois; Attorney Michael S. Marshall of Sandy Township; David Sean Meholick of DuBois, employed by Owens-Illinois Selecting Department as a production worker; and Randall T. Vargas of Sandy Township, a volunteer support specialist, Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania.
The May 18 primary election will determine which candidates will appear on the ballot of November’s general election. If a cross-filed candidate takes the primary election as both Republican and Democrat, they will be the winner of the general election, but the seat will remain vacant until then, according to the Clearfield County Election Office.
Magisterial District Judges, once known as “justices of the peace” or “magistrates,” are the first level of judge in Pennsylvania’s judicial system, and are many citizens’ first and only contact with it. They handle the initial stages of criminal cases, traffic and parking tickets, landlord-tenant cases, and civil lawsuits for up to $12,000 in money claims. District Judges do not need a legal background before holding the position, though a four-week certification class is a requirement for those without this experience.
The annual salary for all Magisterial District Judges throughout the commonwealth is $93,338 and it is a six-year term.
Highlighting what they could bring to the post, all six candidates recently answered the same three questions asked by The Courier Express, presented with limited editing and in alphabetical order:
What do you believe are the most important responsibilities of a District Judge?
Barker: “Listening to those who come before the court, and then applying their testimony to the law, then rendering a fair and impartial verdict or judgment on their case is most important. Assuring that all cases that come before you are afforded their due process in an unbiased and impartial manner maintains integrity and ensures the public trust in their jurist. Being professional to all whom you encounter within the courtroom and looking at each case on its own is particularly important as well. For many people, the District Court is their first and sometimes only interaction with our court system. People look to the District Court and its findings as a benchmark of the law in their local community. Being a judge is not about who you are, or what degrees you have, it’s foremost about using your knowledge of the law, training and life experiences to serve the people that come to you in any manner, whether a defendant in a case, or someone seeking the services of the court. As a product of my career service, there is also the knowledge of the law and the community that are to be considered assets that one can use in rendering decisions and applying resources.”
Farrell: “Honest, decisiveness and unbiased decisions. Our court system is backed up and has not done any favors when giving people second, third and fourth chances for the same offenses. The Sixth Amendment affords the rights of the people to a fair and speedy trial. The district court is often the only interaction the public has with the judicial processes. As the primary decision maker in low level civil, landlord/tenant complaints and citation cases it is my belief this interaction should be fair and expeditious.”
Gelfand: “Ruling without bias and with objectivity to ensure fairness to everyone that appears in front of the District Judge, will provide everyone from the community an equal chance for justice; respect for local and state law enforcement officers and their time. Working with law enforcement will make for a safer community; willingness to work with the other judges in the court system. District Judges need to be able to work well with the three other District Judges in Clearfield County and the Court of Common Pleas judges who oversee the Magisterial District Courts. Working together can make a better system for the community as a whole and reduce wasted tax dollars; the ability to interpret and apply the law as it as written, not according to personal beliefs. Making decisions without outside influence or personal bias is crucial to guarantee justice is served.”
Marshall: “The most important responsibility of the District Judge is to ensure that all parties involved with a particular case be given full opportunity to be heard and that their respective positions be given fair and impartial consideration. Everyone is entitled to equal justice under the law. That includes both sides in civil suits, law enforcement officials, defendants in criminal and summary cases, crime victims, witnesses, and anyone else appearing before the court, whether they are represented by counsel or are representing themselves. With that said, I do not believe that one specific responsibility of the office is more important than any other. Each and every case is important to the people involved and a District Judge should treat all cases with equal significance and regard. A District Judge may be presiding over a civil suit for money damages, a landlord-tenant dispute, summary criminal or traffic offenses, or preliminary proceeding for misdemeanor and felony offenses, among other types of cases. It would be my responsibility to our community to effectively administrate the general workings of our District Court.”
Meholick: “The most important responsibilities of a Magistrate’s duties are in the areas of due process and due diligence. Due process involves entitlement rights individuals enjoy when appearing before the Magistrate. The most fundamental of these being: written notice, an opportunity to be heard, and to be heard before a neutral and detached Finder of Fact. Due diligence entails certain reasonable steps taken by an individual in order to satisfy a legal requirement. The due diligence exercised by a Magistrate involves making a determination in all cases brought before the Court whereby certain criteria must be met, such as, proper jurisdiction and venue, the statute of limitations has not expired, due and proper notice afforded to the parties, proper standard and burden of proof are applied and is effectuated in accordance with the Pennsylvania Rules of Procedure and Rules of Evidence. Of equal and significant importance are a Magistrate’s responsibilities as an issuing authority regarding search warrants, setting bail for the accused at preliminary arraignment, and determining if sufficient prima facie evidence exists during a defendant’s preliminary hearing. These are of utmost importance because with all three someone’s constitutional rights are affected as well as either the safety and security of a victim and/or the freedom of the accused.”
Vargas: “As your Magisterial District Judge, my most important responsibilities would be to maintain a high level of fairness, justice, and service that the DuBois and surrounding area deserves. Above all things, a Magisterial District Judge must never forget that the purpose of the law is to serve and protect the people by protecting their constitutional rights and preventing overreaching by the government. He must follow the law as it is written and apply it equally to everyone. A Magisterial District Judge must be a good steward of the funds that are handled by his court and must ensure that every dollar that is spent is done so wisely and not wasted, knowing that it comes from the hard-working people of Clearfield County. Finally, he must be a communicator with both the people he serves and with the staff he works with providing a safe and secure environment for all court clientele.”
If elected, what will be your top priorities as District Judge?
Barker: “If I am afforded the opportunity to serve our area as Magisterial District Judge, I will bring my knowledge and experience of 24 years of being involved with the District Court process in our area to the position. I promise to be available at the court, and to be fair and impartial to all. Most people do not know that a judge cannot make promises such as, ‘I will be tough on this crime,’ or ‘team up’ with this attorney or group. When elected, you are sworn to be the impartial, neutral person between the parties, and you are to make sure the court cases and all process (whether criminal or civil) are handled according to the rules they are governed by. You cannot and must not show allegiance to anyone or favor one party over another. While serving the people, my priorities will be to run the office and the court in an efficient and professional manner. This includes staying current with new case law rulings and legal updates as I have already done throughout my career. My priority will also be to run the office in a transparent manner in accordance with the handling of all cases.”
Farrell: “I will be prepared, I plan on hitting the ground running the day I am sworn into office. Our area needs a strong District Judge to work through the caseload, get to the heart of the issues and be tough but fair to offenders and work on viable solutions for change. As pointed out by my running mate, I am not a member of the bar. Therefore, I have registered to the Minor Judiciary Education Board to be enrolled in training and testing. I will be certified by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts before the end of this year. I will reach out to the other regional District Judges for the best office practices.”
Gelfand: “1 –Running an efficient office both in time management and resource management. We need our police officers out on the streets and in the community, not sitting around the court room. Tax dollars need to be used conservatively. 2 –Working with District Attorney Ryan Sayers to establish a drug court for the area. A Drug Court will help low-level drug offenders get the help they need and put them on a path to rehabilitation. It will also reduce overcrowding in the Clearfield County Jail lowering costs to the taxpayers. 3 –Bringing back the Teen Court. Teen Court programs have been shown to reduce second offenses by 45 percent. They serve to educate our youth not just about where they went wrong but also about the legal system. The Teen Court Program allows teens who satisfy the conditions to have offenses removed from their record not burdening them for the rest of their lives. 4 –Working seamlessly together with the other District Judges in Clearfield County and the Court of Common Pleas judges for the efficient administration of justice in Clearfield County.”
Marshall: “My first priority as District Judge is to operate our District Court as efficiently and fairly as possible. Specifically, one of my top priorities will be dealing with the drug addiction and mental health issues which are so prevalent among persons involved with the justice system. I intend to work with local agencies and utilize their resources as fully as possible on those cases in which the District Judge has adjudicative authority. I will also work closely with the Judges and Court Administration in Clearfield to address these issues in cases which must be resolved at the Court of Common Pleas level. Another top priority will be reducing the amount of time that police officers, attorneys, litigants, victims, and witnesses spend in court waiting for their cases to be resolved. I intend to cooperate with other court officials, the District Attorney, law enforcement, and attorneys who regularly appear in District Court to develop a scheduling system that will reduce the amount of wasted time and money for all participants. Also, I will address specific issues involving various groups of people, such as veterans and juvenile offenders, by utilizing all available community resources and programs.”
Meholick: “If elected Magistrate, it will be a top priority of mine to implement the core competencies recognized by the National Center for State Courts and the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts. The core competencies are used as a framework for delivering an efficient and effective functioning Judicial body. The most important of these being: Public trust and confidence, equal access to justice, judicial economy, and case flow management. Public trust and confidence is achieved by creating a court environment that exhibits ethical standards and professional decorum. In short, no cronyism, ‘good ole boys network’, or ex parte discussions/proceedings. Equal access to justice is accomplished by affording due process to all customers of the court regardless of whether or not they’re represented by legal counsel or appearing “Pro Se” (unrepresented) before the court. Judicial economy is obtained by managing the judicial resources of the court in an effective and efficient way that serves the best interest of judicial economy (taxpayers’ dollars). Finally, case flow management entails prioritizing the scheduling of the court’s docket in a timely manner consistent with the Procedural Rules of Court. For all intents and purposes, this involves scheduling matters without unnecessary delay while in the interest of justice.”
Vargas: “If elected one of my top priorities as a District Judge would be treating all people with respect and empathy, promoting restorative justice for low level and first-time offenders, and communication and continuity with other Judges, Law Enforcement and Court Administration. Treating people with respect by making the court a welcoming place where people are respected and know their grievances will be heard and judged fairly. Following the law as it is written and applying it equally to everyone. Promoting restorative justice by helping to educate and rehabilitate low level and first-time offenders about the consequences of their actions and give them an opportunity to redeem themselves in the eyes of the community and alleviate crowding in the jail and court system. Finally, communicating with Judges, Law Enforcement and Court Administrators to preserve scarce resources and not waste the time of Judges or Law Enforcement and be a good steward of the taxpayer’s money.”
Why are you the best candidate for this position?
Barker: “I bring my 24 years of experience serving on the streets of our area and having come to know the people, and the experience of filing and trying cases within this same court. I offer my first-hand experience in working with the people of this area in all types of situations and circumstances. I offer the people the professionalism I have shown as their police officer throughout my career. I feel as though I have a knowledge of the values I share with the people of our area that is unique in perspective having served them for as long as I have. I will continue to work to keep our area a safe place to live, work and raise our families as I have done throughout my career. I wish to offer the people the care, the integrity, and the concern that is needed to hold this position, a critical position, that could affect their lives and our area, in so many ways, for years to come. Lastly, I offer the people of our area my hope that they will continue to work with me, and that they will let me continue to serve them and our area as their next Magisterial District Judge.”
Farrell: “I am the best candidate. I come into this position with no preconceived notions of the system or people in it. I have not been in a court room on either side of the table. I think this gives me impartiality to reach a fair assessment of situations brought before me. I am honest, caring and compassionate. I have been involved in our community my entire life. I have worked for the City of DuBois for 33 years. I am a Past Fire Chief of the DuBois Volunteer Fire Department where I have been an active member for 34 years. I’m proud to say my son, Zachary, is also a member. I have volunteered with youth football, basketball, and Big Brother Big Sisters. Plus, Rotary, American Red Cross, and I was an elected member of the DuBois Area School Board for 10 years. My wife, Lauren, and I are lucky enough to be foster parents over the last several years. We currently reside in Rockton with our three children. I am vested in our community. I live here, I work here, and I volunteer here. I have called DuBois my home for over 45 years. I want nothing more than to continue to serve my community, uphold its laws and values, and be the leader as we transition into a bright and prosperous future.”
Gelfand: “1. Attorneys are uniquely qualified to be District Judges. Studying law in law school, passing the bar exam, serving as a law clerk for a Federal Judge, and practicing law for 12 years has given me academic and on-the-job experience relevant for the position of District Judge. This experience includes not only criminal but also civil cases. Only attorneys have the preparation and training needed to hear civil cases. Civil law issues make up the majority of cases that come before a District Judge. 2. I am proud to be a resident of our great community, and am committed to being a true public servant. Through years of volunteering, I recognized the importance of supporting the community not only with participation in civic groups like Rotary Club, the YMCA Board of Directors, and coaching youth soccer but also by working to give our children and grandchildren the gift of a strong, thriving, community. I have carefully designed plans, created with community leaders to help the office of District Judge best serve the community’s needs and make it a better place for today’s and tomorrow’s residents.”
Marshall: “I have a unique combination of legal and real-life experience that none of the other candidates can match. Since becoming a lawyer in 1991, I have served as law clerk, assistant district attorney, and assistant and chief public defender, along with maintaining a private law practice. Over the past thirty years I have handled both civil and criminal cases on a regular basis in front of nearly every District Judge and Common Pleas Judge in six area counties. In addition to gaining an extensive understanding of the law and court procedure, I have learned how judges should conduct proceedings in their courtrooms. The strong working relationship that I have developed with those in charge of the court system in Clearfield County will be invaluable to managing our District Court. I enrolled in law school when I was 33 years old. Prior to that, I worked at a variety of jobs. My wife Grace and I have lived and worked in the DuBois area all our lives. In addition to raising four children, we have always been active in the community and freely volunteer our time with various organizations and causes.”
Meholick: “I firmly believe I am the most qualified candidate on the ballot to be your next District Judge for three important and significant reasons. First and foremost, I am the only candidate in this race whose professional career experience is exclusively in the Judicial branch of government, which is the same branch the District Judge’s office falls under. From 1991 to 2006, I worked either directly with or directly for one of the most respected, revered, and iconic jurist to have ever served on the bench, the late Judge, the Honorable John K. Reilly, Jr. Second, I am the only candidate who possesses a four-year undergraduate college degree in a field closely related to the District Judge office. In 1991, I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminology from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a top ranked university in this academic discipline. Finally, I am the only candidate who has formal Judge training recognized by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Minor Judiciary Education Board. During calendar year 2011, I attended and successfully completed the Minor Judiciary Education Board’s Magisterial District Judge Instructional Training Course and passed the requisite certification exam, thereby, obtaining original full certification (Recertification pending election results).”
Vargas: “I am the best candidate for the Magisterial District Judge position because of my ability to work with people from all walks of life and that I have earned the public’s trust through my experience with youth organizations in the local area. As an executive with both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts I have been entrusted with providing a safe environment for children promoting citizenship and traditional values allowing them to become Leaders of their communities as adults. Having worked within strict budgets where I had to bring in the income before making any expenditures has taught me how to keep from wasting the area taxpayer’s dollars and to be a good steward of the taxpayer’s money. I have had the opportunity to work with everyone from parents to Congressmen from the area. I will be able to follow the law as it is written and apply it equally to everyone, no matter who is before me or whether I personally agree with the law. Being a supporter of the Constitution, I support Americans’ Right to Keep and Bear Arms. I appreciate your vote on Tuesday, May 18, 2021.”