What Do the 2017 Appellate Court Elections Mean for PA’s Litigation Climate?

The results are in and Pennsylvania voters elected seven people to serve on the appellate courts and retained three individuals currently serving in judicial positions. What can we take away from the election results as to the possibility of improving the litigation climate in Pennsylvania?

One of the bright spots was voters overwhelmingly approved the retention of Justices Saylor and Todd to the Supreme Court and Judge Shogan to the Superior Court. The Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform (PCCJR) performed extensive research on the records of the judges standing for retention. Justice Saylor and Judge Shogan have excellent records on issues of concern to job creators and health care providers. Justice Todd is also known to be fair and reasoned in her approach to cases impacting the economic well-being of Pennsylvania.
Justice Sallie Mundy was returned to the Supreme Court after narrowly defeating Allegheny County Judge, Dwayne Woodruff. Justice Mundy was heavily supported by the state’s trial lawyers and received support from business concerns as well. One political action committee comprised of Philadelphia trial lawyers, the ‘Committee for a Better Tomorrow’, donated $400,000[i] to Justice Mundy’s campaign. Justice Mundy was already serving an unexpired term on the court and her victory means that the make-up of the court will not change concerning liability issues impacting the economy and health care.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court results are more interesting. Four new judges were elected to the intermediate appellate court. Three of the winning candidates, Democrats Maria McLaughlin, Carolyn Nichols and Deborah Kunselman received $275,000, $250,000 and $100,000 respectively from the aforementioned Philadelphia plaintiff’s lawyer based ‘Committee for a Better Tomorrow.’[ii] The fourth winning candidate, Republican Mary Murray, received no money from this trial lawyer PAC. Murray edged out incumbent Democratic Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Moulton for the fourth spot. Moulton only received $10,000 from the ‘Committee for a Better Tomorrow’ and was known to be a fair and thoughtful judge on issues of civil liability. The good news is that in the responses provided by Mary Murray to the candidate questionnaire from the PCCJR, she appears to be very in tune with the impact judicial decisions have on the economy and access to healthcare.
In the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court races, Republican Christine Fizzano Cannon ($50,000 from ‘Committee for a Better Tomorrow’) and Democrat Ellen Ceisler ($75,000 from ‘Committee for a Better Tomorrow’) were the winners of the two open seats. Judge Fizzano Cannon also received substantial support from both healthcare and business committees.  Republican Paul Lalley, one of the few candidates running who did not receive any money from the trial bar PAC, placed fourth out of four candidates in this race.
The trial bar contributed heavily to all but one of the winning state-wide judicial candidates. What that means to Pennsylvania’s job creators and patients needing health care services remains to be seen. Pennsylvania’s business and health care climates have suffered due to rulings made by our appellate courts. When judges “legislate from the bench,” making new law versus interpreting the law, the restraint and predictability required to establish a balanced liability climate is lost. The PCCJR will be watching very closely to see how these newly elected members of the appellate courts perform on issues of concern to our members. They will soon be ruling and issuing opinions on issues vital to the success of Pennsylvania’s economy and healthcare viability. How they decide these issues will impact the well-being of every resident of the commonwealth.
Written by Curt Schroder, Executive Director of PCCJR, a coalition dedicated to bringing fairness to Pennsylvania’s courts by elevating awareness of civil justice issues and advocating for legal reform in the legislature. More information at www.paforciviljusticereform.com
[i] All campaign contribution amounts listed are as of Pennsylvania’s ‘Second Friday Pre-Election’ (October 23) political action committee report filing deadline. Amounts may be higher when final reports are submitted for the ’30 Day Post-Election’ due on December 7.
[ii] Campaign contribution amounts listed for each candidate do not include individual contributions by lawyers or law firms.

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