Judicial candidates share views
The three candidates for judge in the 39th Judicial District Court of Common Pleas, serving Franklin and Fulton counties, answered questions during a forum May 9 at the Shady Grove Community Center. The event was hosted by the Franklin County Democratic Committee.
Moderator Clint Barkdoll explained that while Jeffrey Evans, Jerrold Sulcove and Jeremiah Zook were all Republicans, they had cross-filed. At the May 21 primary, one person from each party would advance to the November general election. If both Democrats and Republicans chose the same person, there would be only one name on the fall ballot.
The person elected would serve 10 years, then be up for a retention vote. The salary was $180,000. The seat was open due to the retirement of Judge Richard J. Walsh.
The candidates had not seen any questions in advance, Barkdoll noted.
Questions from the committee
If there was a need for special needs courts, whom should they serve? (While the candidates rotated the order in which they answered questions, the responses will be presented alphabetically.)
Evans - Family court should be addressed, since custody cases took too long to appear before a judge in a meaningful way. He also wanted to research whether a drug court was necessary, since so many mechanisms were already in place.
Sulcove - A substance abuse court may be appropriate, and a mental health court was a good idea, since people with mental disorders often did not commit a crime out of malice. He also supported a court for veterans and their issues.
Zook - Mental health and domestic relations were valid if the expense was justified. He was "suspicious" of drug court. It could help the addicted, but was no place "for those in the business."
How is courthouse safety? All three credited the sheriff's department with raising the standards tremendously in the past several years.
Evans - There was still a problem with two entrances into the building and potential for situations during domestic hearings. He had seen clients charge each other.
Sulcove - More space would be good since it was crowded during call of the court, and adversarial parties were close enough to fight.
Zook - The courthouse was one of the most secure places in the county, and he felt safe in areas not open to the public.
What about juvenile court?
Evans - Great strides had been made, with a juvenile master now on staff, and one judge assigned to handle each case. He did not recommend any changes.
Sulcove - Judges did not live in a vacuum and a wise one worked with all stakeholders in the process to make the system better.
Zook - The system worked well and cases moved forward in a timely fashion.
However, youth didn't have time to prepare for the differences in the adult system once they turned 18.
Questions from the public
What is your expected tone in the court, if you are elected judge?
Evans - The forum would present cases pursuant to the rules of evidence and people would know he would apply the rules of law, regardless of the defendant's station in life. "I want them to say, 'I was heard and I was dealt with fairly.'"
Sulcove - He wanted people to know how he would rule as they relied on the fact that he would follow the law. He would be transparent, and deliver his opinion with clear reasoning.
Zook - He wanted lawyers to be ready, knowing the judge was sharp.
Why do you want to be judge?
Evans - He wanted to apply his experience for the benefit of the wider community. "Well-rounded experience is essential and I've had the seasoning."
Sulcove - While the job could consume 70 hours per week, it was "an opportunity to do the most good for the most people. It is the most interesting job in law."
Zook - "Society is slipping away from accountability for its actions. I want to bring criminal justice and the civil system back to what it was designed to be."
Some people asked about issues not under the purview of the court, such as DNA testing, preventing murders and search warrants. Nevertheless, Barkdoll let the panel comment on the topics if they desired. He then joked that the attorneys might send a bill for their legal expertise.
Evans, 49, a Franklin County native, graduated from Waynesboro High School in 1972, graduated cum laude from Dickinson College in 1986, and earned his law degree from Wake Forest University in 1989. He has 23 years experience and now has his own law firm in Waynesboro. He and his wife Debbie live in Fayetteville with their two children, who attend public school in Chambersburg. "I'm a general practitioner, sort of a dinosaur in this age of specialization," he said. His experience ranged from criminal, civil, family, real estate and estates to serving as solicitor on five municipal boards. "Judges hear all those types of cases every day. A judge must be familiar with the values of the community and people he serves."
Sulcove, 36, a Franklin County native, graduated valedictorian of his Chambersburg Area Senior High School class, with highest honors from Oberlin College, and then earned a law degree from Temple University. He is a partner with Black and Davison in Chambersburg. He and his wife Lauren live in Chambersburg with their two rescued greyhounds. His experience includes civil litigation, estate administration, real estate, auto law, Social Security disability, veterans benefits and business law. He is also a solicitor. "This experience makes me a well-rounded attorney and a well-rounded judge."
Zook, 38, earned his law degree from the University of Akron. He is Franklin County Assistant District Attorney. He and his wife Melanie live in Guilford Township with their three children, who attend school in the Chambersburg-Area School District. He has also been in private practice and was an assistant public defender. "I have spent my life in the courtroom as a litigator. I have been a minister of justice. Judges have to be this also."