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Local Office Candidates Begin Their Campaigns

One lawyer and several non-lawyers are vying for the Democratic nomination for magisterial district judge.

Three of the candidates, lawyer Dan Stephenson, Dauphin County Prison employee Wendy Myers and psychologist Michael Courtney, spoke at the meeting of the Elizabethtown Area Democratic Committee on Sunday, Feb. 3, to make their case for why they should get the job. A fourth candidate, Sal LaRusso, had asked to speak at the meeting but had not arrived by the time it adjourned.

Stephenson and Myers are vying for the endorsement of the Lancaster County Democratic Committee, which is to make its decision on Saturday, Feb. 23. Courtney and LaRusso are both registered Republicans and are therefore ineligible for the Democratic endorsement, but plan to cross-file to run in both parties’ primaries. Stephenson and Myers also plan to cross-file to run in the Republican primary. The office of magisterial district judge is a full-time job that pays a salary of $90,154 a year for a six-year term. The job was most recently held by Jayne F. Duncan until she resigned abruptly in April of last year. Magisterial district judges hear minor criminal matters, traffic cases, landlord- tenant disputes, smallclaims civil cases as well as holding arraignments, setting bail and holding preliminary hearings for serious criminal matters.

The Elizabethtown Area Republican Committee plans to hold its meeting to consider candidates seeking the GOP endorsement on Wednesday, Feb. 13, Chairman Chris Leppler said.

In addition to the judicial candidates, Kristy Moore spoke at the Democratic Committee meeting about her plans to run for school board in the Elizabethtown Area School District. Moore, who is a teacher in the Hempfield School District, is also planning to cross-file to run in both the Democratic and Republican primary elections.

Myers was the first judicial candidate to speak. She noted that she had spent almost 10 years in the Army National Guard and had been deployed three times, twice to Iraq and once to Germany.

“It really gave me a greater appreciation for what we have here,” Myers said about her time overseas.

She noted that in her job at the Dauphin County Prison, she deals with magisterial district judges daily.

“That will certainly help me out in this role,” she said.

Myers said she will run for the office whether or not she gets her party’s endorsement.

Stephenson emphasized that he is the only Democrat seeking the office who is a lawyer. He noted that he got his law degree in 2008 and passed the bar exam on his first attempt.

Stephenson said although magisterial district judges do not have to be lawyers, the ones who are lawyers have a big advantage. He gave the example of a small-claims civil case where neither party has a lawyer.

“You have two people who are unrepresented by counsel and don’t know the law,” Stephenson said, and those people will need someone who knows the law to decide who is right.

“Somebody has to be the expert in the room,” he said.

At the other extreme, both parties might be represented by lawyers and the opposing lawyers might be arguing an obscure point of law. In that case, the judge should be able to understand the points being made.

He said Myers would be a great candidate for the Democratic Party, just not for magisterial district judge.

Stephenson said if he is elected, “I would be pretty much giving up my law practice.” He said he would have to limit it to things that can be done outside of court hours, such as drafting wills. He added, “If my mom calls and asks for legal advice, I’m going to answer.”

Stephenson said he was not sure what he will do if the party endorses another candidate, but he will definitely run if the party makes no endorsement.

Courtney said his work in clinical psychology gives him the skill to calm people down in conflicts, which he said would be useful in court.

“I’ve never run for any kind of office, but Ithough maybe I could serve my community in this way,” Courtney said.

Moore, the school board candidate, said if she is elected, she will fight for all-daykindergarten.

“Those early years are so important,” she said, adding that child-care expenses for half-day kindergarten are a financial burden on families without a stay-at-home parent.

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