Fledgling Allegheny County judges test wings in court
Don’t judge Jennifer Satler if she doesn’t respond to calls of “Your Honor” on the street.
“It really takes a while to get used to,” said Satler, 39, of the North Side, who was most recently in private practice. “It’s kind of like still writing 2013 on your checks.”
Six months into 10-year terms as the newest judges in Allegheny County, Satler, Eleanor Bush and Mark Tranquilli are settling into their roles.
Elected among a slew of candidates in last year’s primary and general elections, the trio started hearing cases on their own in March. First, they completed a six-week local training program, shadowing longtime judges and attending a one-week intensive session at Penn State.
“It feels like a really good fit, and I still feel so honored and privileged to be here,” said Bush, 54, of Squirrel Hill, who spent 25 years practicing family law.
The three work out of the fifth floor of the court’s Family Division in the former jail on Ross Street, Downtown. They handle juvenile delinquency and dependency cases and oversee conciliation and custody hearings and divorce and protection-from-abuse proceedings. Their salary this year is $173,271.
“The decisions that we make are so important to the families and the children,” Bush said.
Working in the Family Division was a pronounced change for Tranquilli and Satler, who spent their careers focusing on criminal law.
Tranquilli, 47, of Upper St. Clair took an unpaid leave of absence from the district attorney’s office, where he had been a prosecutor for 20 years, to run for office. Satler opened a private practice and began teaching at the University of Pittsburgh in 2007 after leaving the county public defender’s office, where she spent seven years on criminal cases.
“You’re never too old a dog that you can’t learn new tricks,” Tranquilli said.
“It’s good to have a different flavor,” Satler said. “I was sort of nervous about the new, uncharted territory for me, but I give myself plenty of prep time.”
All three judges said they’re transitioning well and enjoying their roles. New judges typically start in the Family Division. Where they go from there is up to the president judge.
“You really feel at the end of the day that you’re helping people,” Satler said.
Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or [email protected].