Published Date Written by Daniel Walmer
Three candidates – a Democrat and two Republicans who will square off in the primary on Tuesday, May 21 – are battling to fill a seat on the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas left open by the retirement of maverick Judge Lawrence Clark, and all three have undertaken different career paths that they think uniquely qualifies them for the job.
Republican Fran Chardo, who is endorsed by the Capital City and Greater Harrisburg chapters of the Fraternal Order of Police and the Dauphin County Chiefs of Police Association, points to his credentials as a prosecuting attorney: He’s worked in the Dauphin County District Attorney’s office for 19 years, the last 10 as first assistant district attorney. He has prosecuted over 125 jury trials, including the death penalty case of Ernest Wholaver, a Middletown man who murdered his wife and two daughters on Christmas Eve 2002.
“I’m very proud of my work in the Wholaver case,” he said.
In general, he thinks prosecutorial experience is helpful for judges because prosecutors serve in a “judicial-like role,” weighing various factors in the public interest when deciding whether or not to pursue a prosecution.
While the public hears about high-profile prosecutions, Chardo said, they often do not see the “mercy-dispensing” function of prosecutors.
“Many times, the right thing to do is to give a kid a break,” he said.
In fact, Chardo said he’s been an “innovator in the court system,” helping to create alternatives to incarceration like drug court and veterans’ court.
“I’ve tried to improve the court system wherever I’ve seen issues,” he said.
Chardo plans on combining innovation, impartiality and a firm grasp of the dignity of the courtroom if serving as judge, he said, but there’s one character trait he particularly pledges to use.
“I think humility is one of the most important attributes that a judge can bring to the bench,” he said.
Outside the courtroom, Chardo has volunteered in community leadership roles with the Boys and Girls Club of Central PA and the local chapter of the American Cancer Society, he said.
Unlike Chardo, Republican Bill Tully – Chardo’s opponent in the primary – currently serves as a defense attorney. But he’s also served as a first assistant district attorney in the past, and that is just part of a varied resume that also includes Dauphin County solicitor and member of the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing.
“I’ve pretty much done the whole field of criminal [law],” Tully said. “I think I’m probably the only candidate that has that variety of experience.”
Tully styles himself as the apolitical candidate in the race, saying he has particularly avoided political endorsements because judges need to bring justice to people of all political persuasions.
He asked voters to base their decision on which candidate they would most want to be their judge if they were involved in a court case.
“Do you want to come before a politician, or someone who’s fully dedicated to being fair and just?” he asked. “If that’s what you want, I’m your man.”
Like Chardo, he endorsed drug court and juvenile court as ways to keep nonviolent offenders out of prison, and said he values humility in a judge.
“I serve the people, and I’m always watched over by a higher judge,” he said. “That humility is essential.”
But based on his experience, there’s one thing Tully won’t compromise on – the Constitution.
“I admire the Constitution probably more than anything,” he said. “I believe the Constitution must be followed at all points.”
The lone Democratic candidate for judge, Anne Gingrich Cornick, has followed yet a different path that she believes has prepared her for being a judge: Originally from the central Pennsylvania area, she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia, living in a mud hut with no electricity or running water.
She later served as a public defender, rising to Chief Deputy of Appellate Litigation in Dauphin County, and created her own private law firm. But during that time, she never lost her interest in helping others.
She began serving on the board of non-profit health organization Alder Health Services, and she said it was her interest in improving communities that led her to run for judge.
“When (state) Sen. Rob Teplitz approached me about running for judge on the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas, I saw it as the right time to take the next step in my life that has been devoted to my community,” she said.
To Cornick, the most important qualities to have in a judge are a commitment to equality and an even temperament.
“No matter who you are, no matter from where you’ve come, appearing before me will ensure you are appearing before a judge who is tough, but fair,” she said.
Cornick also pledges to use the judge position to help young people avoid becoming career criminals.
I will … continue to work outside the courtroom with the community – its teachers, parents and prosecutors – to work with and encourage our youth to choose paths that will grow our community and ensure that more of our young people grow up with careers, and do not become career criminals,” she said.