Ridge, Rendell throw support behind Pa. SC chief justice

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Nov 1, 2013

PHILADELPHIA (Legal Newsline) -- Two former Pennsylvania governors said Thursday they support state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille's retention.

Castille, a Republican, is running for retention in the state's Nov. 5 election. Joining him on the general election ballot is fellow Justice Max Baer.

If Castille, who was elected to the state's high court in 1993 and retained in 2003, had decided to forgo running for retention this year, there would have been an election for his seat on the bench.

Instead, voters will see his name on the ballot and vote "yes" or "no" on whether to keep him.

Former governors Ed Rendell and Tom Ridge said residents should vote "yes."

They say his exemplary record on the bench and history of service not only to the state, but to his country, make him a great jurist and leader.

"Ron has been a remarkably effective chief justice, modernizing the court and presiding over many important cases in Pennsylvania during a very challenging time," said Ridge, a Republican who served as governor from 1995 to 2001.

"The fact that the Pennsylvania Bar Association recommends his endorsement, citing his 'steadying influence' and 'continuing leadership,' speaks volumes about him as a person and a justice.

"He not only improved the judicial discipline system of the courts in the commonwealth but he also has made it a priority to encourage lawyers to provide pro bono legal services to those in need. He has a distinguished career that should continue on the Supreme Court."

Rendell, a Democrat, agreed.

"I have had the honor of knowing Justice Castille for many years. He was my successor as district attorney of Philadelphia, prosecuting some of the most serious crimes in the state," he said.

"As a Supreme Court justice he has gone on to oversee some of the toughest legal cases in Pennsylvania. He continues to be the most productive justice in terms of written majority decisions. And he does this while handling the myriad of administrative tasks that go along with being the chief justice."

Rendell, who served as governor from 2003 to 2011, noted Castille's overseeing of the construction of the new family courthouse in Philadelphia. He said the chief justice is "eager" to see it to completion.

"It is clear he still has more to do and I, for one, am glad that he wants to continue on the bench," the former governor said.

Castille has served as the court's chief justice since 2008.

He is a former Philadelphia district attorney and decorated Marine. He was a platoon commander during the Vietnam War, losing his right leg to enemy gunfire. He was given the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, among other awards and decorations.

If retained on the court, Castille will be forced to step down next year. The state's mandatory judicial retirement age is 70.

However, the age requirement could change if a bill moving through the state Senate is signed into law.

Earlier this month, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill sponsored by the state House of Representatives that would increase the mandatory judicial retirement age from 70 to 75.

The legislation, House Bill 79, previously passed the House.

State Rep. Kate Harper, R-Montgomery, sponsored the proposal late last year after a handful of state judges filed lawsuits challenging the provision in the commonwealth's constitution that forces judges and justices from the bench at the end of the year in which they turn 70.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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