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Your guide to local judge elections this May


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmasters: Colin Deppen and Sarah Anne Hughes
April 15, 2021
District judges, final exit, tech union, carried conviction, congressional mapquest, and Pennsylvania's most famous bowler. Hi, Thursday.
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In an off-year election, with a state Supreme Court seat as the highest-profile race on the primary ballot, it's easy to forget candidates for magisterial district judge — the lowest rung of Pennsylvania's judicial system.

But these 512 people preside over the kinds of disputes many of us might encounter someday, like a small-claims dispute with a home contractor, a traffic offense, a violation of a local ordinance, or a disagreement with a landlord. (On evictions, they have significant discretion over who should be protected from being forced from their home and who shouldn't.)

District judges must run for reelection every six years, and not every voter will be asked to weigh in during this election cycle. So is your local magistrate on the ballot? It's a basic question that, depending on where you live, can be surprisingly tough to answer.

THE CONTEXT: The first barrier is finding out who your magistrate is. Pennsylvania's central court system maintains a list of all magistrates by county and district (Philadelphia uses a different system and is excluded). Figuring out which district you live in can be a challenge. For example, it's easy in Lehigh County, which has a lookup tool, but tougher in Lancaster County, which only publishes a static map.

The best place to look for that information is your county government's website. Then, visit your county's election division for a list of candidates or sample ballot to see if your district judge is up for reelection. 

Investigating an incumbent or challenger's qualifications is also difficult. They aren't evaluated or given a rating by the Pennsylvania Bar Association (it only reviews the qualifications of people running for appellate court seats). And local coverage of these races is spotty, at best. 

That's a significant lack of scrutiny for judges who make $93,338 a year, with the possibility of a pension and lifetime health care. As a Spotlight PA/PennLive investigation found, there are also huge variations in their workloads. In 2019, 10% of district judges had at least 60 days without court appearances, above and beyond holidays, weekends, and training days.

One measure you can consider for incumbents is how many days of the year they did (or didn't) have court proceedings using this tool

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"This reminds me a little bit of the definition of insanity." 

State Sen. Joe Pittman (R., Indiana) on the logistics of Gov. Tom Wolf's plan to divert state funding from horse racing to college scholarships
VACCINE UPDATE: Moderna hopes to provide a third round of COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to U.S. patients by the end of the year to better protect against variants. Meanwhile, Pfizer says it's upping production of its vaccine amid precautionary pauses of Johnson & Johnson shots in states like Pennsylvania. For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing.
» FIGHTING MISINFORMATION: Join Spotlight PA at 5 p.m. April 20 for a conversation and reader Q&A about how partisan groups are masquerading as local news in Pennsylvania and undermining public trust. RSVP FOR FREE

POST IT: Some blooming daffodils shot in western Derry Township. Thanks, Robert N.! Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.
'FINAL WITHDRAWAL': President Joe Biden says he is ending America's longest-running war and will pull 2,500 remaining troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11. The 20-year war left scores of civilians dead along with thousands of U.S. troops, dozens from Pennsylvania.

TECH TROUBLES: More than a year after Google contractors in Pittsburgh delivered a historic pro-union vote, they still don't have a contract. "It just feels like a complete joke that they're not taking the process seriously," an organizer told WESA.

OUT OF OFFICE: A 15-year-old drug conviction is hanging over activist Marquis Lampkins' run for Sharon City Council. But while the felony doesn't bar her from running or even winning the seat, it could keep her from taking or staying in office, the Sharon Herald reports.

MAP-SHAKER: Like a political version of musical chairs, Pennsylvania could lose a congressional seat next year, leaving many wondering who might be left standing. If all of Pennsylvania's 18 U.S. reps. want to run again, the AP says a "bare-knuckled political exercise" awaits.

MISTAKEN IDENTITY: A traffic stop that ended in a hail of bullets and the death of a 24-year-old man was initiated by Philadelphia police who incorrectly believed the man had an outstanding warrant, The Inquirer reports. James Alexander's death is under investigation. 

HUMBLE BRAG: Spotlight PA (that's us!) took several top prizes in this year's Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Pro Chapter Spotlight Contest. Among the work honored: our reporting on Gov. Tom Wolf's flawed business waiver program, failures to address racism on college campuses, and our deep investigation into the Mariner East pipeline. See the full list here.

FOGGER: A time-lapse of dense fog rolling in on Pittsburgh this week — also seen in this still shot from shutterbug Dave DiCello — is serene. I can confirm, as a Pittsburgher, that driving through the fog at 7 a.m. was less so.

DEBATE CLUB: Speaking of Pittsburgh ... If you're planning to vote in next month's mayoral Democratic primary there, a debate hosted by WESA and the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation revealed a lot about the people running.

KINGPENN: The "Ginger Assassin," whose rare 7-10 split in a professional bowling tournament recently went viral, is an 18-year-old from Milton named Anthony Neuer. "I like it,” Neuer told The Daily Item of the nickname.

DOCTOR'S IN: A Jenkintown doctor who laid "the groundwork for the novel mRNA vaccines turning the tide of the pandemic" celebrated by eating an entire box of Goobers, the New York Times reports.  

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Yesterday's answer: Perfection (also accepted: frontpiece)

Congrats to our daily winners: Susan D., David I., Neal W., Elaine C., Irene R., Kevin H., Bruce B., Kim C., Dennis M., Bill C., Yvette R., Craig W., Jill A., Dianne K., Carol D., Christopher R., Suzanne S., Brian B., George S., Dixie S., Beth T., Heidi B., Tish M., Bob R., Elizabeth W., George W., James B., Kerri G., Karen W., Richard D., Mary Kay M., Meg M., Christine M., Joel S., David W., Anne R., and Daniel M.
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