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HARRISBURG — Democrats Jill Beck and Timika Lane have defeated Republicans Maria Battista and Harry Smail for two open seats on Pennsylvania’s Superior Court.
The Associated Press called the race for Beck at 11:20 p.m. Tuesday, and for Lane the next morning at 10:40 a.m. Unofficial results show Beck with 28% of the vote and Lane with 25%.
Two sitting judges on Superior Court — Jack Panella and Vic Stabile — also have comfortable margins in favor of their yes-or-no retention elections, though the AP hasn’t formally called those elections. If their victories hold, they will begin additional ten-year terms.
Superior Court cases tend to have a lower profile than the political questions that often go before the Commonwealth and state Supreme Courts. But of the three appellate courts, Superior is the one that an average Pennsylvanian is likeliest to interact with.
The 15-member panel considers criminal, civil, and family cases that are appealed from lower courts such as the Courts of Common Pleas. Its decisions can be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Some cases do end up being high-profile. Notable examples include the court’s decision to vacate decade-old gun and drug charges against rapper Meek Mill, its decisions in the long child abuse case against former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, and its handling of actor Bill Cosby’s sexual abuse case.
When the winning judges are sworn in next year, there will be nine Democrats and six Republicans serving on the bench.
Judges on Pennsylvania’s appellate courts run for election in statewide, partisan races. While they form political action committees and collect donations to win office, they are governed by stricter rules than most political candidates: They aren’t allowed to solicit those donations directly, and they can’t promise potential supporters that they will rule a certain way.
The Democratic candidates outraised the Republican hopefuls. Between the beginning of 2022 and Oct. 23 of this year, when candidates filed their final full campaign finance reports, Jill Beck brought in more than $1.4 million — the most donations of the four candidates. That total includes some cash rolled over from her unsuccessful 2021 campaign.
The Democratic candidates received much of their support from labor unions, party-affiliated PACs, and a PAC run by the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association, while Republicans were likewise bolstered by organizations affiliated with their party’s political leaders.
The Superior Court candidates
Beck is a Pittsburgh-based attorney who has worked in commercial litigation for Blank Rome LLP — one of the largest law firms in the United States — and also spent a decade as a clerk on the state Superior and Supreme Courts for Justice Christine Donohue. She has a “highly recommended” rating from the Pennsylvania Bar Association, which wrote that she possesses “the highest combination of legal ability, experience and integrity.”
This was her second run for Superior Court after a primary loss in 2021.
Lane, of Philadelphia, has served for a decade as a judge on the city’s Court of Common Pleas, where she works in the Complex Litigation Center. She began her career as a public school teacher in Maryland, where she worked for four years. Like Beck, she is “highly recommended” by the Pennsylvania Bar Association, which wrote that it is “confident the candidate is capable of outstanding performance as a Superior Court of Pennsylvania judge.”
She too previously ran for Superior Court, beating Beck in the 2021 primary but losing in the general election.
The Clarion County-based Battista previously served as assistant general counsel for the health and state departments and was a contract specialist for the Department of Defense. She was the only judicial candidate in this year’s general election to get a “not recommended” rating from the Pennsylvania Bar Association, which withheld its support because she did not participate in its evaluation process.
Smail, of Westmoreland County, has served as a judge on the county’s Court of Common Pleas since 2014.
Two sitting judges on the Superior Court were also up for retention this year. This is a yes-or-no question in which voters are called to decide whether a judge can stay on the bench for another ten-year term, and judges very rarely lose.
The judges were Democrat Jack Panella, who serves as the Superior Court’s president judge, and Republican Vic Stabile. Unofficial results appear to show that both were retained though the race hasn’t been formally called by the AP. If the result stands, Panella will begin serving a third term and Stabile, a second. Because they are 68 and 66, respectively, both will have to leave the bench before their terms are over.
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