Pennsylvania SC race heats up

Kathy Woods Oct. 20, 2009, 12:00pm

Jack Panella

Joan Orie Melvin

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Legal Newsline)-The race for the lone vacant seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court seat is heating up with Democrat Jack Panella only slightly ahead of Republican Joan Orie Melvin, a poll indicates.

A Dane & Associates poll released this month indicates Panella has 38 percent of the vote compared to Melvin's 35 percent support, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported this week.

Political analyst Larry Ceisler was quoted by the newspaper as saying: "It's a huge race, for several reasons. Panella has strong support from labor and trial lawyers, and if he wins, it's further proof that Pennsylvania has gone Democratic, and that could give momentum to the Democratic gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates next year.

"But if Orie Melvin can win it, it sends a troubling message to Democrats, especially since they outnumber Republicans by more than 1 million registered voters."

Panella has been a Superior Court judge since 2004 and prior to that he was a Common Pleas judge for 13 years. During his time in private practice he represented sports figures, including professional boxers and racecar drivers.

Melvin has been on the Superior Court bench since 1997. She comes from a politically connected family that includes State Senate Republican Whip Jane Orie. Melvin was the first woman to hold the post of chief magistrate of Pittsburgh's municipal courts.

County Republican Jim Roddy told the Post-Gazette: "Most magistrates are Democrats, but her fellow magistrates constantly praised her. She's had an exemplary career on Common Pleas and Superior Court. She is a person of principle-she didn't want to take the 2005 pay raise."

When the Supreme Court said she couldn't refuse the raise, she gave the money back to the state treasury along with cost of living adjustments.

State Democratic Chairman T.J. Rooney said of Panella: "For two decades Jack has been the kind of guy who distinguishes himself and rises to the top. He's a born leader and a man of great intellect. Those are tremendous qualifications for a person to serve on the state's highest court."

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