The Lancaster Bar Association has given “highly recommended” ratings to both District Attorney Craig W. Stedman and Elizabethtown Magisterial District Judge Jayne F. Duncan for a county court vacancy created by Judge Jay J. Hoberg’s retirement.
The legal group’s recommendations came Monday, March 5, a month since Hoberg retired and since the county’s two state senators picked Stedman out of a pool of candidates vying to replace him. Gov. Tom Wolf must ultimately nominate someone to fill the position or let it go unfulfilled until the next election in 2019. The governor’s nominee would need to be approved by the 50-member state Senate.
In recommending Stedman and Duncan, both Republicans, the bar association did not provide specific reasons or say who else had been considered during the nonpartisan process.
Candidates who submit a questionnaire and are then interviewed by the association’s members are permitted to withdraw before the recommendations are released.
The options are “highly recommended,” “recommended” or “not recommended.”
“Judicial elections, and political appointments to fill elected seats when they are vacant, are part of the political process,” said Jeffrey P. Ouellet, an attorney who chairs the committee that reviews judicial candidates. “But the committee works on a completely nonpartisan basis. Our hope is that our nonpartisan ratings are useful throughout this process.”
The Bar Association’s process follows another one in which state Sens. Ryan Aument and Scott Martin solicited and reviewed applicants before submitting their own recommendation to the governor.
The Republican lawmakers released the names of the 10applicants they considered in January before saying Stedman, a Republican and threeterm district attorney, was their top choice.
They lauded Stedman’s “character, credentials, strong ethical standards, leadership and overall qualifications.” In a joint statement on Monday March 5, they said the bar association confirmed their decision.
Duncan was also on the senators’ list. An Elizabethtown magisterial district judge since 1991, she has previously run for county judge twice and was “highly recommended” by the bar association both times.
Stedman, who lost a close race for statewide Superior Court last year, was “highly recommended” for that position by the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
Duncan and Stedman have also gone head-to-head in recent years in a legal dispute that stemmed from a traffic case in 2015.
After Duncan replaced another district judge’s ruling in the case, Stedman filed a writ of mandamus directing her to reinstate the earlier verdict. During a criminal investigation into the matter, Duncan was barred from hearing criminal and traffic cases.
In February 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Stedman’s petition and Duncan was permitted to again hear criminal and traffic cases.
Duncan’s lawyer claimed Stedman had “vilified Jayne Duncan in the press.” Stedman had said his concern had been setting a precedent for allowing judges to change their verdicts.
Wolf’s office set a Feb. 16 deadline to receive applications from interested candidates in all of the court vacancies across the state.
A spokesman for his office said Monday, March 5, that the administration was currently reviewing and vetting applications.