Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Debra Todd on PCN

PCN Election 07

Judge Debra Todd
Democratic candidate for Supreme Court

Member of the Pennsylvania Superior Court

This evening I watched a tape of Judge Todd's 30 minute Q&A on PCN. These are my rough notes from that program. Apologies in advance for any errors or misinterpretations.

Q: Why get into law

DT: always loved the law, discovered it at age 12. Father a steelworker. None of my family had had the opportunity to go to college. Had never known a lawyer. At age 12 an attorney in my neighborhood asked me if I would like a job as a file clerk for 50 cents an hour for the summer. Attorney encouraged me to be a lawyer. He told me women could be lawyers. Worked for that lawyer every summer full-time from ages 12-18, part-time during school year.

Q: law school?

DT: went to Pittsburgh, Chattam College, Univ of Pittsburgh, member of law review

Q: first job?

DT: attorney at US Steel. Parents excited since dad a steelworker. There for 6 years as an in-house litigator, tried cases in state and federal court. Went into private practice for 12 years. Started with commercial litigation, representing businesses in commercial pursuits. Expanded, did employment law and environmental law and represent individuals in wrongful death and product liability. Wide range of cases

Q: memorable cases?

DT: litigation in civil court, did pro bono in family court as advocate for children. Represented some women whose husbands were killed in a roof collapse. You can never make things right but try to get families relief

Q: when did you want to be a judge?

DT: always had an eye on the judiciary, knew would have to work hard and establish self as an attorney. Thought being a judge would be a wonderful and meaningful career. Elected to superior court in 1999. Opportunities are where you find them or make them. Knew there were vacancies on superior court. Wanted to pursue that, traveled around state, all 67 counties, made a lot of friends. Very fortunate to be elected.

Q: involved politically before that?

DT: Grew up in a family active in volunteerism and local politics. As a small child worked on Humphrey campaign. Family focused on issues and political activism

Q: why a Democrat?

DT: Grew up in a union family, usually allied with Democrats. Values taught when growing up are values not exclusive to Democrats but appeal to everyone. Values we all hold and seek to elect individuals to court and high office in government who have those values. We want those people to have those values, integrity, inclusiveness. Not just Democratic values but values we want in anyone as a judge. I have a broad range of experience, education,

Q: what makes a good judge?

DT: So many qualities – integrity, hard working, honest, well-education, unbiased, impartial. Education – all of the candidates have gone to law school, I’m the only candidate for supreme court that went beyond that and received post doctoral degree and did that while sitting on the court as an appellate judge. Competitive program, only accept 30 students, usually appellate judges. Encouraged to apply by president judge of superior court, wonderful mentor, and by current president judge. Both of those individuals worked hard and attended the program. Requires a lot of work and effort, spend two summers at UVA in Charlottesville, moved children there, husband moved back and forth. Still kept up with docket on superior court. Did a lot of research and published an article in Penn State Law Review on adult offenders of children. Every day see those cases in the superior court. Going through LLM program gave me the opportunity to really delve into the issue. Being a graduate of that program demonstrates a [missing word] of the judiciary. Takes judging business very seriously. [blogger's note: A synopsis of her article appeared on this blog in July.]

Q: what kind of cases on superior court?

DT: intermediate appellate court, cases from court of common pleas, when people dissatisfied with verdict can take case to superior court. Heard cases on every conceivable kind of law, minor criminal offense appeals, to most serious cases, murder, burglary, rape, with exception of death penalty (which go to Supreme Court), also have business related cases, also family related cases, child custody, termination of parental rights. I have gained tremendous experience as appellate judge.

Q: case load

DT: about 8000 appeals. 15 elected judges and 5 or 6 senior judges assist with case load. Each judge on the superior court sits on cases in groups of 3 or panels of 9 on certain cases [missed details] which may be seen on PCN. I think that is very educational for people. Shows how hard we work at this system of justice.

Q: on the superior court for almost 8 years, why move up?

DT: worked very hard on superior court, over 1600 opinions, available on superior court website. Gained tremendous experience and insight, with judicial work, education, sentencing and constitutional law. Two seats on supreme court vacant and being filled in election. Very important for voters to come out and evaluate candidates to see which would best serve.

Q: what difference between where you sit now and supreme court

DT: Supreme Court is court of last resort, hear appeals from superior court, commonwealth court and some others such as death penalty. Superior court has to take cases, the supreme court hears only the cases it selects, about 100 or 150 cases a year. Picks the ones the judges feels are the most important. Court renders opinions on what will be interpretation of particular law in Pennsylvania. In addition to writing opinions and administering system of justice in PA, so administration of justice the same across the state.

Q: what is campaigning like?

DT: it’s been great. I love meeting people. Tiring but love meeting people. Put a lot of miles on the car meeting people. All across the state the people of Pennsylvania very concerned about state of judiciary. Want justices with integrity, restore some faith that might have been lost in last year. If fortunate enough to be elected wants to speak out and show what judges do, volunteer in community, part of their churches.

Q: is that what you are hearing?

DT: many people concerned at what goes on in high level of government. Certainly had more activism in last few years because of that concern. Anything that the public can do to get to know the judges not only as a professional in the law but as a human being will reinforce to the public that we are working hard to restore faith in the justice system, level playing field

Q: bar association rating

DT: Honored to receive highest rating. People wonder how those come about. PA Bar Association behaves almost like the FBI in intensity of evaluating candidates, talk to people you have come into contact with, lawyers, judges, detailed questionnaire, speak to you and to your staff, you speak to entire commission about 25 people firing questions at you. In depth investigation, try very hard to rate candidates. Very positive thing to receive their highest recommendation.

Q: other recommendations

DT: endorsed by AFL-CIO and many other labor unions, by PSEA (sisters PSEA members), one sister just retired after 38 years as a public school teacher. Gratified to have support of the teachers. Many groups in state stepped forward to endorse my candidacy. Philadelphia Inquirer and Allentown Morning Call endorsed.

Q: should judges be elected or selected

DT: in favor of an elected system. Elections, although exhausting and expensive, it is at the very least a public process in the open air. Voters of PA get to see the candidates. People don’t want that right taken away and decisions made in back room by people they see as politicians. With the internet and candidate websites and groups that evaluate judges lets people know who is running and what they stand for.

Q: why vote for you

DT: First, worked very hard, worked through college and law school, My sisters and I are the first in family to have opportunity to go to college. Established a solid reputation as a trial attorney. And as a fair and impartial judge, believe I have a contribution to make on the supreme court. Endorsed and supported by groups all over the state. Whether D or R what matters is quality of judiciary. Please look at qualification, background, and experience, I believe I am a candidate worthy of your vote. Lastly, if a woman not elected this November there will be no women on the court. There should be a woman’s voice at the table. I am a mother and a wife, having that perspective will only enhance the supreme court.

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