ShareThis Page
Most county judges rank ‘acceptable’ or better |

Most county judges rank ‘acceptable’ or better

| Wednesday, June 25, 2008 12:00 p.m

State and federal judges in Allegheny County largely received passing marks from lawyers who appear before them, according to the county bar association’s Judiciary Survey, a report card released every four years.

Lawyers graded 43 of the county’s 46 Common Pleas judges “acceptable” or better in four categories: impartiality, legal ability, diligence and temperament. Lawyers marked 29 judges’ job performances as “good” to “excellent.”

Federal judges in district, magistrate and bankruptcy courts also scored well, with 18 of the 25 rated good to excellent in three or more categories.

The scores are not meant to compare judges, but to give lawyers a chance to evaluate those who have presided over their cases. A total of 797 lawyers with an average of 23 years in practice submitted surveys.

“It’s not a beauty contest,” said Ken Gormley, president of the Allegheny County Bar Association and a Duquesne University law professor. “(But) overall, it shows we have excellent, highly qualified judges in Allegheny County.”

Gormley declined to comment on specific judges’ marks.

“Judges, like all people, have strengths and weakness is particular areas,” he said.

Common Pleas Judge Paul Lutty Jr. and U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab each earned poor marks in two categories. Lutty was rated 2.95 out of a possible high score of 5 in legal ability and 2.99 in diligence, while Schwab was rated 2.82 in impartiality and 2.21 in temperament.

Neither could be reached for comment.

Attorney Arthur Stroyd, a former colleague of Schwab’s before he received a life-time appointment to the federal bench in 2003, said the public corruption trial of Dr. Cyril H. Wecht likely impacted Schwab’s ratings. The first trial of the former county coroner ended in April with a hung jury. Wecht’s lawyers have criticized Schwab in court documents and news interviews.

“Dr. Wecht’s legal team made no secret in their displeasure in being in front of him or of his rulings, and they made no secret they wanted him off the case,” said Stroyd, who described Schwab as being tough and demanding. “I think the Wecht trial had taken its toll on him in terms of impartiality and temperament, because those were the swords being thrust at him by Dr. Wecht’s counsel.”

Defense attorney Jerry McDevitt, who represents Wecht, declined to comment.

Common Pleas Judge Thomas Flaherty received a 2.81 rating in legal ability — the lowest of any Common Pleas judge. The former city controller was elected to the bench in 2005 with no legal background.

“I think it’s good information. It gives an indication as to how one is doing,” Flaherty said. “I’m doing the best I can, and I’m sure the longer I’m on the bench the more I’ll improve in that category.”

Common Pleas Judge Donald Machen, Senior U.S. District Judge Alan N. Bloch and federal bankruptcy Judge Bernard Markovitz received poor marks in temperament. None could be reached for comment.

Categories: News
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.