On Monday, the Delaware County Bar Association held an unusual press conference, announcing their members wholeheartedly endorse the judges running for retention.
This move comes after the Delaware County Democratic Committee, in an unprecedented move, voted to tell its members not to vote not to retain three Common Pleas Court judges: Richard M. Cappelli, Barry C. Dozor and William Chip Mackrides.
“As attorneys, we recognize that it is in the best interests of justice that we support a strong and independent judiciary. And that judicial independence is more than a mere ideal. It is a cornerstone of our democracy and the rule of law,” said Patrick Daley, bar association president.
“We must vigilantly support judicial retention as a nonpartisan, nonpolitical matter,” said Daley. “An independent judiciary guards against political interference in legal cases that come before the court, and it ensures that our judges remain impartial stewards of the law, owing fealty to the law and our constitutions, rather than to a political party or partisan interests,” Daley added.
Colleen Guiney, chair of the Delco Democrats, said her organization is not opposing any individual judge but instead wants to change the system. Judges are up for retention votes every ten years.
Since these judges were elected, the county has moved on, and there is more “transparency and equity,” she said. The court system uses up half the county budget, she said. And the current bench “does not reflect those changes.”
“There have been lots of challenging situations,” she said. As it is now, “it’s more about patronage and personal convenience,” she said.
The party’s Facebook page says the court “costs taxpayers money and clogs our justice system.”
“The Democratic Party is recommending a No vote on retaining Common Pleas Court judges so Delco voters have a chance to elect new judges at the next municipal election,” the party said.
Guiney said about half of the voters don’t vote on the retention question.
After the press conference, Daley said the bar has members of both parties and is a nonpartisan entity, so he could not comment directly about the Delco Democrats’ recommendation not to vote for the sitting judges.
Capelli was elected to the Common Pleas Court in 2013. He had served as a magisterial district justice for 21 years before serving as the county’s first child advocate. He also assisted the DA’s Office in founding a special prosecution unit, the bar association said in a press release.
Dozor was appointed to the Common Pleas Court in 2001 and was elected in 2004. He is a lifelong county resident and graduated from Haverford High School and West Chester University. Currently the head of the civil division, he was also a family court judge and introduced the “one judge-one family” assignment protocol to provide consistency in litigation. He also served on the criminal bench and was assigned all the opioid litigation for the state of Pennsylvania. The bar voted 91 percent to retain Dozor.
Mackrides is also a lifelong county resident with an accounting degree from Villanova and a law degree from Loyola University. He was elected in 2013 and practiced law in the county and statewide for more than 33 years. The bar voted by 91 percent to retain him.
“The Delaware County Republican Party vehemently condemns the outrageous and partisan attack launched by the Delaware County Democrats on qualified, nonpartisan judges ahead of the upcoming November election,” said Frank Agovino, chair of the Delco GOP. “The Delaware County Democratic Committee’s recent decision to recommend non-retention marks a dangerous departure from the long-held tradition of non-partisanship in judicial retention elections.
The judges targeted for non-retention…have a lengthy record of distinguished, nonpartisan service. Furthermore, they have all been endorsed by the Delaware County Bar Association – a nonpartisan organization –for retention, with 90 percent in favor of retention. Their impeccable qualifications and unwavering commitment to upholding the rule of law have earned them bipartisan respect and support.”
He called the Democrat’s recommendation to their voters “an overt power play to manipulate the judicial branch for political gain, all because these judges were once endorsed by the Republican Party.”
Agovino noted that in the past, Guiney had “respected the traditional practice of retaining judges unless they engage in egregious misconduct. This recent action is utterly at odds with Democrats’ purported commitment to safeguarding democracy, protecting norms, and preserving institutions.”
Guiney said the move to not recommend judicial retention was in response to many voters, who do not want to wait longer for change.
“We are a bottom-up, not a top-down organization,” she said.