Wednesday, April 27, 2011

PCN Interview with Kathryn Boockvar

Kathryn Boockvar, endorsed Democratic candidate for the Commonwealth Court was interviewed by PCN's "On the Issues" on April 20th. I watched on pcn+ (go to, pcn+, election 2011) and these are my rough notes. This is not intended as a complete transcription and I apologize in advance for any errors or misconceptions. Interested voters are encouraged to watch for themselves.

Q: Tell us about the election coming up

KB: the election is 5/17.

Q: Who is your opponent?

KB: Primary opponent is Barbara Ernsberger. It is a seat that Doris Smith Ribner held then she stepped down to run for another office. Judge Johnny Butler held since then

Q: Tell us about the court?

KB: primarily an appellate court but also has original trial jurisdiction in some kinds of
cases. Such as election cases.

Q: As a practitioner did you appear in front of commonwealth court

KB: earlier in my career quite a few unemployment cases, but never did an argument in front of the court. My cases were all by brief.

Q: Why run?

KB: I feel that this court and this time, a lot of paths in my background converge here. I’ve been very fortunate to do a lot of different things in a lot of areas, such as labor and employment (unemployment compensation is largest type of cases the court hears right now), public records law, election law, land use, zoning cases. I’ve practiced in those areas. I don’t just want to be judge but judge of commonwealth court.

Q: Tell us about your background?

KB: for the last three years did voting rights work. Terrific opportunity, allowed me to work with individuals and organizations and really hear what groups and individuals were seeing in their communities, trial lawyers and unions talk about what they are seeing and what they want to accomplish. I was one of the few lawyers active in the Advancement Project, a coalition. Really ranged across everything you can image across voting law. Voting fraud was not a problem we saw much of if any. There is a law in PA about voting machines, what happens when they break down, etc. In 2008 machines would break down and in some places they gave out paper ballots and in others they would wait in line for hours; others were told to go home and come back later. Not being treated equally. Number of organizations in coalition concerned. Now the rule is that you need to distribute paper ballots when machines broken, if more than 50% of machines not working.

Q: You published op ed on rights of those incarcerated to vote

KB: in PA if convicted of a felony cannot vote while in prison, if misdemeanor can. Felons can vote after leaving prison. There used to be a 5 year waiting period, no longer the case. Partly because of past law there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Helped train parole agents.

Q: Rating from PA BAR, recommended

KB: There are 3 levels, highly recommended almost always reserved for sitting judges, most get recommended, and there is also not recommended. Very proud of the language used in their evaluation, bright, strong advocate for clients, communicate well, integrity to serve as judge

Q: Many endorsements?

KB: I’m honored and thrilled with support receiving. Endorsed by PA Democratic Party, tremendous network of volunteers around state. Need 1000 signatures to get on ballot, we turned in over 6,000, with more than 100 signatures from 17 counties. Endorsed by PA SEIU which represents 80K working families across state, Equality PA, and a lot of other organizations, Philly AFL-CIO and PA UAW (actually a former UAW member)

Q: Commonwealth court a statewide court, running statewide

KB: really a terrific experience. People often ask me how I feel about the election of judges. I believe in voters being engaged in the process. Appreciate voters having a say in that branch of govt. If I’m seeking a bench in one part of the state it is helpful to actually have been there, have a sense of the community. It broadens us as judges. I feel honored to have this opportunity.

Q: Can’t talk about particular cases or rules?

KB: You can talk about personal opinions and beliefs. Get a lot of questionnaires, one of my biggest missions is explaining why this court matters. Sometimes you get asked a question that feels less like personal opinions than “how would you rule” and you don’t want a judge who will tell you hypothetically how they would rule but listen to each case on its merits. Not everyone wants to hear that, try to keep in in personal opinion area

Q: Commonwealth court a consensus court with a large docket

KB: Like the fact that even if not on the panel, all the judges have to review decision and sign off. It means there’s more than just the 3 judge panel that hears the case. I went to American University law School. One of the things they taught us is client centered counseling and really hearing, listening. I feel that’s something I’ve always done. Whenever you have advocacy there’s always a chance that people will talk past each other and I’ve found one of the things I can do well is really listen to all sides. I was often able to serve as a bridge. You’re hearing both sides of an argument and people on the bench are bringing all different backgrounds. Being able to hear and bridge what all those people are saying is a good quality.

Q: Trained as a mediator?

KB: Yes, I wish there was more mediation that happened across the system, to empower people to come to a decision themselves and it saves so much time and money and energy and angst among all parties. Mediation training has been very useful. Communication is half the battle. How many times do you … it’s not the underlying issues it’s how they’re talked about

Q: If you win primary you could be facing another Bucks County woman?

KB: We do not have enough elected women in general in PA. We are not effectively electing women in PA. As often as I can I encourage women to run. There is a tendency for women not to put themselves forward unless someone encourages them. In 2007 someone asked me to run for an office; otherwise I would not have thought of doing that. We should put forth strong qualified women as often as we can. It says something for Bucks County that we have a terrific Bar Association and have qualified candidates.

Q: Why it matters, why should people vote

KB: The Commonwealth Court is called The People’s Court. It hears all kinds of cases all across PA, a lot of the issues, labor and employment, labor, gas drilling – land use and zoning go to Commonwealth court, unemployment compensation, workers compensation, voting rights cases, public records requests. The thing about a court, they may decide a case, and that can affect other cases because of the value of precedent. Can affect not only us but our children and grandchildren. A lot of what I’ve been doing going around the state is telling people why this court matters. I wish our system worked better in educating people on these matters. Because of my background I really have experience substantively and also broad geographic area, went to Penn, then American Law School, then to Legal Action Center, hired for sole legal services person for Wyoming and Susquehanna Counties, supervisor in Scranton, lovely area, moved to Lehigh Valley Legal Services, opened own practice and husband joined her, for 11 years, a lot of areas, pensions, benefits, insurance. In 2008 hired by national civil rights organization to do statewide voting rights. Met people all across the state. It’s been a tremendous opportunity.

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