(This article originally appeared at Broad+Liberty.)
Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer is making clear he has no intention of following the advice of his county party, at least where judicial retention is concerned.
“Our Commonwealth’s constitution requires judicial retention elections to be nonpartisan for a reason: to protect the principle of judicial integrity. Personally, I plan to vote to retain Judges Cappelli, Dozor, and Mackrides, each of whom has earned my support,” Stollsteimer, a Democrat, told Broad + Liberty in an email.
Stollsteimer’s comment comes as the debate continues to heat up in Delaware County, especially among Democrats, as to whether the county Democratic Party should recommend to its voters that they vote “no” on retaining the three judges Stollsteimer named — all three of whom have either run as Republican in the past or welcomed Republican endorsements.
Delaware County Democrats decided in a nail-biting 18-17 vote last week to throw long-standing tradition overboard in order to recommend the ousting of the three judges who all sit on the county’s Court of Common Pleas.
“There’s this sentiment here that we took back the county, we’re in power, we’ve got it all going for us,” David Brown was quoted as saying by The Inquirer. Brown, a Democratic candidate for state representative in Haverford Township, was in support of the motion, according to The Inquirer report. “Well, I hate to break it to them, but when our judiciary is overwhelmingly Republican, you can’t really say the county is run by Democrats.”
Stollsteimer’s endorsement of the judges — and his rebuke to his own party — is certain to carry weight, given he’s the county’s top cop and deals with the judiciary on a daily basis.
On Monday, the Delaware County Bar Association gave a brief press conference outside the main county building and courthouse in Media. Although the association merely alluded to the plans of the local Democrats rather than directly reference them, the very fact that it felt it had to re-emphasize it was recommending retention for the three judges was telling all by itself.
“In order to ensure the judiciary remains as a check and balance against the partisanship of the legislative and executive branches, we must vigilantly support judicial retention as a non-partisan non-political matter,” Patrick Daly, president of the Delaware County Bar Association, said at the press conference.
“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 interest in years when there are local or statewide judges running for retention,” Daley added.
But the Democrats in support say voting the judges out will equal reform.
“Since the Democrats flipped Delco county government, we have seen real reform in transparency, equity, and innovation. But not the County courts,” the party’s Facebook page says.
“County judges have ten-year terms and then go up for ‘retention’ every 10 years, without an opponent. Our Common Pleas Court is still operating under a system of patronage and personal convenience that costs taxpayers money and clogs our justice system.”
County Republicans have blasted the effort.
County Republican Chair Frank Agovnio called the Democrats’ recommendation “an overt power play to manipulate the judicial branch for political gain, all because these judges were once endorsed by the Republican Party,” according to Delaware Valley Journal.
“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,’” DVJ reported.
The bar association has information on all three judges on its website.