Candidates vie for two seats on Washington County Court of Common PleasPublished Jan 31, 2013 at 11:50 am (Updated Jan 31, 2013 at 11:50 am)
Candidates are lining up to fill two vacancies on the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County in this year’s election, a result of this year’s retirements of judges Janet Moschetta Bell and Paul Pozonsky.
Blane A. Black
Monongahela attorney Blane A. Black, 56, a Charleroi native, has maintained a general law practice in the Mon Valley for more than 31 years. His cases have taken him to not only Washington County, but all surrounding counties as well.
As president of the Washington County Bar Association, Black said he’s “very much concerned about the fact that our court is now operating with only four judges instead of our allotted six.”
He added, “I know and understand the importance of having our full complement of qualified and experienced jurists to handle the administration of civil and criminal justice here in Washington County.”
Black said the court is in desperate need of people with the proper judicial temperament and experience to step in once elected and assume a full share of a challenging judicial workload.
“Most likely, the new judges will have to assume duties dealing with family-related and criminal matters. Having raised four children of my own and with my general practice background, I will not need any on-the-job training,” he stated.
A resident of South Strabane Township, Black is a 1974 graduate of Charleroi Area High School. He received his undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Pittsburgh, where he graduated magna cum laude in 1978, and then received his law degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1981.
He serves on the county Board of Viewers, has participated in the court’s Civil Mediation Program and has been appointed by the court to preside over civil minitrials. He is solicitor for the Washington County Department of Tax Revenue and handles all tax assessment and tax claim litigation matters for the county.
In addition, Black serves as general counsel for the Mid Mon Valley Transit Authority; solicitor for Dunlevy, Roscoe and Smithton boroughs; solicitor for RESA Regional Police; and solicitor for the county recorder of deeds.
He formerly was solicitor for the county prothonotary and served as a support hearing officer for Washington County, where he heard and adjudicated thousands of child and spousal support cases.
He is also treasurer of the Washington County Bar Foundation and an active member of the Monongahela Rotary Club, of which has previously served as president and secretary.
“I have lived and worked in Washington County most all of my life and have raised my children here,” Black said. “As the son of a union steelworker, I not only know and understand the most important concerns and issues affecting my neighbors and clients, I have lived them.”
A registered Democrat, Black said he plans to cross-file and seek both parties’ nomination in the May primary.
South Strabane Township attorney Lane Turturice is making a second attempt at securing a judicial seat. The 39-year-old California native ran in 2011 for the seat left open by the death of Judge Mark Mascara.
“Two years ago, in my first run for judge, I traveled Washington County and had the opportunity to talk with thousands of citizens to learn about the issues that are most important to them,” he said. “Based on my conversations with them, Washington County wants a judge that has the courage to protect our individual freedoms and liberties and who is committed to preserving, protecting and keeping our families safe.”
Turturice lost that election by a slim margin to Judge Gary Gilman.
“Washington County is dealing with a judicial crisis with the loss of two of its judges who both together handled civil, criminal and juvenile cases,” Turturice said. “So, the next judge must possess a diverse background of legal experience in order to immediately begin tackling the expected backlog of cases.”
Turturice began his legal career as an associate with the firm Bassi, McCune and Vreeland. He then served as a Washington County assistant district attorney for more than five years, during which he said he handled numerous jury and nonjury trials as well as having prosecuted thousands of criminal cases and administered the county’s fast track program.
“One of the most important and rewarding duties I had as an ADA was as a child advocate and juvenile prosecutor,” he stated. “I have always had a heart for children, and I intend to carry that with me onto the bench and will do whatever is legally permissible to protect the health and safety of children and their families.”
For the past eight years, Turturice has maintained a private practice with his partner, Tim Berggren. He currently serves as legal counsel to more than 14 municipal entities including the city of Washington, the Greene County Housing Authority and Bethlehem-Center School District.
Turturice is a member of the Washington County Bar Association, having served on its executive committee as president of the Young Lawyers Division and Zone 6 chair of the Pennsylvania Bar Association Young Lawyers Division. He is past chair of the Pennsylvania Bar Association House of Delegates; founding member and past chair of the Juvenile Law Section of the Washington County Bar Association; a high school mock trial team coach; and participant in the Washington County Bar Association’s Pro Bono Project. In 2005, the Washington Rotary Club awarded him the Club Service Award.
“I am not part of the political establishment or machine politics,” he stated. “As a judge, I will be completely free of political and personal influences.”
Although a registered Republican, Turturice said he will cross-file in the primary election.
Turturice and his wife are the parents of four children.
Attorney Peter Marcoline 35, has been practicing law in Washington County for 10 years. In 2004, he joined the law firm Blackwell & Associates.
“All litigants need to be treated fairly and impartially, which should be the very foundation of our judicial system,” said Marcoline. “I will bring a refreshing attitude and vitality to the bench.”
Over the years, Marcoline has maintained a general practice, handling criminal defense, family law, personal injury, construction litigation, juvenile delinquency and juvenile dependency cases.
“Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity of appearing before countless judges in the county courts of Washington, Greene, Allegheny, Westmoreland and Fayette,” said Marcoline, who pointed out he also has appeared in federal court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, litigating serious criminal issues, and has filed and successfully argued numerous appeals in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, resulting in the errors of lower courts being corrected.
“In my career, I have prided myself in taking the time to understand each individual client’s issue,” he said. “Whether it was a minor traffic citation or a multimillion-dollar divorce, each one of my clients deserved and received my utmost attention.”
Marcoline added, “Regardless of the seriousness of the issue, it was recognized that each client’s case significantly impacted their lives. This same premise should be applied by a judge.”
Marcoline said he will apply his strong work ethic to assist in easing the burden on current judges, litigants, attorneys and court staff.
“The county currently faces great challenges. As a father of two young children, I want to ensure that they grow up in a safe and prosperous community where the judicial system maintains integrity and balance,” he said.
Marcoline is a 1995 graduate of Bethel Park High School. He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in political science from Washington & Jefferson College in 1999, and obtained his law degree from Dickinson School of Law of Penn State University in 2002.
While attending Dickinson, he studied international law and global intellectual property law at the University of Florence, Italy. Upon graduation from law school, he began a judicial clerkship in the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County.
Marcoline is a member of the Washington County and Pennsylvania bar associations. He is actively involved with the Member Relations Committee and the Young Lawyers Division of the Washington County Bar Association.
“As past practice, the newly elected judges will handle family law and criminal matters,” he stated. “Because of my experience, I am ready, willing and able to handle those areas of the law and any other judicial assignments bestowed upon me.”
Although a registered Democrat, Marcoline plans to cross-file in the May primary, because he believes “political partiality has no place in a judicial election.”
Marcoline, his wife and two children live in South Strabane Township.
Washington County’s lead prosecutor Mike Lucas wants to try his hand at deciding court cases rather than arguing them.
“The Court of Common Pleas has lost two experienced trial judges who handled a vast majority of the criminal cases on the docket,” said the 45-year-old Lucas, who currently serves as first assistant district attorney. “Electing a judge who has significant experience on the trial court level is critical to alleviating the current stress on the county’s trial court.”
This is Lucas’ second run for a judicial seat. In 2005, he was one of nine attorneys to run for two vacant positions which were won by John DiSalle and Janet Moschetta Bell.
Over the past 16 years, Lucas has tried and gained more convictions in serious felony cases, including homicides, than any other lawyer in Washington County.
Meanwhile, as an attorney in private practice with the firm of Bassi, Vreeland and Associates, Lucas has extensive experience in civil trial court. He has tried cases to verdict not only in Washington County, but also in Allegheny County, Ohio and in federal court in Pittsburgh.
The Carroll Township resident has served as solicitor for Charleroi Borough, the Charleroi Area and Canon-MacMillan school districts.
In 2011, his peers in the Washington County Bar Association awarded Lucas the Robert L. Ceisler Award for Excellence in Professionalism.
While experience is an essential element to being a good judge, Lucas believes it alone is not enough.
“A demonstrated record of faithful public service is essential for a judge,” he said. “A judge has to be skilled at resolving conflicts. To do so, a calm demeanor and a professional temperament is a necessity.”
A 1989 summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, Lucas obtained his law degree from Duquesne University in 1992.
He has volunteered with many community, church and civic groups, currently serving on the board of directors of the Center in the Woods, Community Action Southwest and the Area Agency on Aging.
In a pro bono capacity, he recently assisted the boroughs of Charleroi, Speers and North Charleroi to form a regional police force and to sustain local police protection in the Mid-Mon Valley.
Stressing that politics has no place in the courthouse, Lucas intends to cross-file and seek the support of all voters.
“When a person comes to court, he or she should not have worry about the judge’s politics or political agenda. Instead, each person who goes into a Washington County courtroom should be able to count on the judge being committed to making a decision that is fair, just and right according to the law and the facts,” he said.
Lucas is married and the father of three daughters.
District Judge Valarie Costanzo
District Judge Valarie Costanzo, a resident of Cecil Township, said she has adjudicated more than 50,000 cases during her 14 years as magistrate, a post she was first appointed to by former Gov. Tom Ridge. As a district judge, she presides over criminal, civil, landlord/tenant, traffic, and summary cases and is responsible for issuing arrest warrants and search warrants.
“With a prolonged vacancy on the court and a backlog of cases, it’s imperative that the county elects a qualified and experienced judge who doesn’t need on-the-job training,” Costanzo explained. “For the past 14 years, I’ve been in the courtroom on a daily basis, demonstrating my ability to closely listen to all parties, apply the law in an even-handed way, and render prompt decisions.”
Costanzo won election to a full term in 1999, and again in 2005 and 2011.
A former county assistant district attorney who prosecuted more than 1,500 criminal cases, Costanzo said she was instrumental in the development and implementation the county’s Fast Track Program, which saves taxpayer dollars by expediting a criminal case from the preliminary hearing stage to a final plea.
She has been an attorney in private practice for the past 18 years, handling a variety of civil matters.
A native of Washington County, Costanzo is a graduate of Canon-McMillan High School. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh in 1991, and obtained her law degree from the University of Pittsburgh School Of Law in 1994.
“As a lifelong resident of Washington County, I understand the issues and concerns of the community,” Costanzo said. “I believe that my 18-year legal career, as both a judge and attorney, provides me with a solid foundation to be an efficient and effective judge.”
Costanzo is a member of the Washington County Bar Association and Special Court Judges Association of Pennsylvania. In addition, she is vice president of the Washington County Special Court Judges Association and serves as chairwoman of its rules committee.
Canton Township attorney Charles Kurowski, 60, is making his sixth run for a Washington County judicial seat.
“We have a judicial crisis. We are in serious need of legal leadership and clarity in our judiciary and the application of law to help not harm families,” said Kurowski, who has been a practicing trial attorney for 33 years, handling cases from the magisterial level to arguments before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
“I have handled civil cases in which my clients over those years have received over $1 million in awards,” he added.
Kurowski prides himself on being an outspoken champion of the pubic’s rights to good law and upholding the U.S. Constitution.
“This is something the government and our courts are slowly discarding,” he stated. “I have gone head to head with judges and their misapplication of the law and their bad decisions.”
Kurowski explained that a judge’s bad decision “affects us all and costs us thousands of dollars unnecessarily.”
A member of the Washington County Bar Association, Kurowski is president of the association’s Family Division, in which he implemented a monthly schooling for members on cases being decided by the appellate courts. He is a graduate of the Duquesne Law School. He also has a master’s degree in sociology from Duquesne graduate school.
He has served as a volunteer for many nonprofit clubs and organizations, and currently serves on the board of directors for Habitat for Humanity.
Kurowski said he is disheartened by the state of the Washington County judiciary as “some of our judges have become an embarrassment across the state and to the taxpayers that pay their salaries to whom they are accountable.”
“This is what lawyers and the general public must face when they come to the courthouse to find justice and fairness in keeping our families safe,” he said.
Kurowski said his more than three decades of legal experience will give him an advantage. “It is critical to elect someone with years of experience instead of someone who is just starting to understand the law,” he stated. “Electing someone with 10 years of experience means that person may be on the bench for 30 years trying to learn the law instead of already having applied it.”
If elected, he also would work to implement drug and alcohol testing for judges.
Kurowski and his wife live in Canton Township. He will cross-file and seek both political parties’ nomination.