Alongside the big-spending contests for Allegheny County executive and district attorney are candidates for county offices and statewide courts who could have lasting influence and affect the uneasy partisan balance. PublicSource news partner Pittsburgh City Paper details the races.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania: Carolyn Carluccio vs. Dan McCaffery

By Colin Williams

Illustration of candidates McCaffery and Carlussio
(Illustration by Lucy Chen/Pittsburgh City Paper)

The state’s highest appellate court has had a vacancy since Justice Max Baer died in September 2022. Of the remaining six justices, four are affiliated with the Democratic Party. Vying for a 10-year term in Baer’s former seat are Republican Carolyn Carluccio, a Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas judge, and Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Daniel McCaffery.

Carolyn Carluccio

Bio: First female president judge in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. Currently resides in Blue Bell. Was first-ever female chief public defender for Montgomery County. Former federal prosecutor and Montgomery County Bar Association president.

Philosophy: Has said she “will apply the law even when I don’t like it, even if I don’t agree with it.” Wants to restore “balance and trust” on the bench. Says the late U.S. Supreme Court [SCOTUS] Justice Antonin Scalia “most reflects [her] judicial philosophy.” Scrubbed mention of Second Amendment support and support for “All Life Under the Law” from About page of website.

Abortion: Said she will apply the law permitting abortion up to 24 weeks “as written.” Says it’s up to the governor and state legislature to change this. Has accused McCaffery of wanting to “do what he thinks is best” following Dobbs v. Jackson decision. Has expressed pro-life sentiment to Pro-Life Coalition of Pennsylvania.

Ethics: Attempted to connect opponent McCaffery to a pornographic email scandal that cost McCaffery’s brother Seamus and others their jobs in 2014. Cites Catholic background as a source of “strong ethics.”

Endorsements: Received state Republican Party endorsement during the May primary. Has gotten ad support from GOP megadonor Jeffrey Yass. Endorsed by state Pro-Life Coalition and Pro-Life Federation. Rated “Highly Recommended” by the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

Dan McCaffery

Bio: Judge of the state Superior Court since 2019. Lives in Philadelphia. Served in the Army and graduated from West Point. Previously worked as Assistant DA and in private practice before being elected to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas in 2013. Volunteered for “at least 50” Democratic campaigns before election to the bench. 

Philosophy: Has said he “believes the Constitution is a living document.” Believes “our courts have been politicized.” Wants to preserve the rights that “we Democrats have fought for the last 60 years.” Cites U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts as an inspiration.

Abortion: Disagrees with the overturning of Roe v. Wade and is vocally in favor of preserving the right to an abortion. Says the decision to have the procedure is between a person, doctor and “her conscience.” Vows to uphold 24-week access to abortion in Pennsylvania.

Ethics: Selected by the state Supreme Court to serve on the Court of Judicial Discipline. Says work ethic and commitment to service are a result of Irish Catholic working-class upbringing and military service. Denies any connection to the scandal that took down his brother Seamus despite receiving lewd emails from him.   

Endorsements: Endorsed by the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and pro-choice organizations, including Planned Parenthood. Supported by labor unions, including the state AFL-CIO, and environmental groups such as the Sierra Club. Received third-party ad support from the ACLU. Rated “Highly Recommended” by the Bar Association.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania: Battista, Smail, Beck, Lane

By Colin Williams

Illustration of candidates Beck-Lane-Battista-Smail
From left, Jill Beck, Timika Lane, Maria Battista, Harry Smail (Illustration by Lucy Chen/Pittsburgh City Paper)

The Superior Court hears high-level criminal appeals and family cases. This 15-member high court is currently split 7-7 between Democrats and Republicans with one vacancy. With two judges reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75, November’s election will fill two vacant seats. Republicans need to win both to gain the majority, while Democrats would have the upper hand with just one.

Maria Battista

Bio: Legal consultant for a staffing firm. Lives in Clarion County. Formerly served as contract specialist with the U.S. Department of Defense. Assistant general counsel for the state Dept. of Health under Gov. Tom Corbett (a Republican) and the Department of State under Gov. Tom Wolf (a Democrat).

Philosophy: Did not say explicitly if she is a constitutional originalist, but compared her philosophy to Scalia’s. Shares Scalia’s belief that “it [is] up to Congress and the state legislatures to make the laws when the Constitution [is] silent on an issue.” Hopes to better represent rural Pennsylvanians.

Abortion: Ran on pro-life platform during unsuccessful bid for Clarion County DA in 2019.

Ethics: Has not commented on judicial ethics, but lack of responses on one survey suggest a view of strict separation of powers.

Endorsements: Endorsed by the state Republican Party and supported by a PAC affiliated with the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. Rated “Not Recommended” by the Bar Association after declining to participate in their evaluation process. Endorsed by Pro-Life Federation of Pennsylvania.

Harry Smail

Bio: Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas judge since 2014 — appointed by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, then elected to a full term on bipartisan ticket. Lives in Hempfield. Practiced law privately for many years while unsuccessfully campaigning for local office. Served as Westmoreland County GOP solicitor for 15 years. Said he “is known for quick rulings.”

Philosophy: Ruled to throw out 204 provisional ballots in 2020. Ruled in favor of fracking in Westmoreland County and a broad interpretation of the Second Amendment. Has compared his philosophy to Scalia’s and Neil Gorsuch’s and called himself “an Originalist and a strict constructionist.”

Abortion: Declined to offer a definite answer on abortion when asked about Dobbs decision, saying the issue “has a very real chance of being litigated before me.” Agreed with a SCOTUS case affirming parental rights.

Ethics: Has not commented publicly on judicial ethics.

Endorsements: Endorsed by state Republican Party and state. Sen. and President Pro Tempore Kim Ward. Supported by Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation and Firearm Owners Against Crime.

Jill Beck

Bio: Pittsburgh-based business attorney at Blank Rome LP. Previously worked as a clerk for Judge Christine Donohue at the Superior Court and Supreme Court, drafting over 500 opinions from 2010 to 2019. Ran unsuccessfully for same office in 2021. Has worked for KidsVoice, a nonprofit focused on children involved with the welfare system.

Philosophy: Has suggested she would try to emulate retired SCOTUS Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom she called a “consensus-builder” and “tiebreaker.” Says she has worked to “help the underserved.” Called the seat she is vying for “not a political seat” during a campaign stop.

Abortion: Though she has not offered public commentary on abortion, has advocated for women’s rights. Gisele Fetterman also wore a Jill Beck shirt at a gathering of pro-choice candidates in Beck’s absence.

Ethics: Has said she has the experience to serve as a judge with “competence, integrity, ethics and productivity without sacrificing the quality of the decisions.”

Endorsements: Endorsed by the state Democratic Party as well as multiple Democratic committees and state lawmakers. Supported by women’s rights groups including Planned Parenthood. Endorsed by numerous trade unions. Rated “Highly Recommended” by the Bar Association.

Timika Lane

Bio: Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas judge since 2013. Lives in West Philadelphia. Began her career as a teacher. Has since worked as a legal clerk, public defender and legal counsel for state Sen. Anthony Williams [D-Philadelphia]. Bested Beck in the 2021 Superior Court Democratic primary but lost in the general election to Republican Megan Sullivan.

Philosophy: Has referred to SCOTUS Justice Ketanji Brown as a role model. Said she hopes to treat every person before the court with “dignity and respect.” Advocated for litigants to continue to use Zoom or similar software for accessibility. Participated in a panel sponsored by LGBT Rights Committee.

Abortion: Appeared with Gisele Fetterman at a pro-choice event and said “our bodies matter.”

Ethics: Has emphasized the importance of a diverse, efficient courtroom and “creating an unbiased environment.”

Endorsements: Endorsed by the state Democratic Party and many liberal elected officials. Supported by labor unions including the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. Endorsed by Planned Parenthood and Pennsylvania National Organization for Women. Has received PAC support from the Collective PAC, focused on building Black political power. Rated “Highly Recommended” by the Bar Association.

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania: Megan Martin vs. Matt Wolf

By Colin Williams

Illustration of candidates Wolf and Martin.
Matt Wolf, Megan Martin (Illustration by Lucy Chen/Pittsburgh City Paper)

The Commonwealth Court is the state’s highest court of appeals in civil and regulatory matters. Currently dominated by conservative judges, the court issues opinions on tax matters, state agencies, zoning and voting. There are currently five Republicans and three Democrats on the bench, with one seat vacant. Voters can choose between Republican and former secretary-parliamentarian Megan Martin or Democratic municipal judge Matt Wolf.

Megan Martin

Bio: Former secretary and parliamentarian of the Senate of Pennsylvania, the first and only woman to hold the role. Cumberland County resident. Graduated from the University of Delaware and Widener Law Commonwealth. Previously worked as a staffer for Republican governors Tom Ridge and Tom Corbett, U.S. Navy attorney and law clerk.

Philosophy: Likened her philosophy to SCOTUS Justice Samuel Alito and state Supreme Court Justice Kevin Brobson. Has called herself a “strict constitutionalist” and says she does not believe the Constitution is a living document. Said she “will follow the law as it is written by our General Assembly.”

Abortion: Agreed with the overturn of Roe v. Wade and the SCOTUS majority opinion comparing it to segregation.

Ethics: Says inside experience will help her “hold government accountable.” Vows to staunchly defend the rule of law.

Endorsements: Endorsed by the state Republican Party and the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation. Supported by law enforcement agencies including the State Troopers Association and business groups such as the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. Rated “Recommended” by the Bar Association.

Matt Wolf

Bio: Supervising civil judge of the Philadelphia Municipal Court. Cites 25 years of experience as a private civil rights litigator before the state Supreme Court, federal courts, and courts in New Jersey. Decorated 20-year U.S. Army veteran and reservist with war zone experience who continues to work in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.

Philosophy: Focused on “equity and access to justice” and highlights record working on tenant protections in Philadelphia. Opposes judicial activism. Notes that he is the only candidate for the Commonwealth Court with experience on the bench.

Abortion: Appeared at an event with other pro-choice candidates and public figures.

Ethics: Opposes changes to state judicial ethics standards, saying current ones are “sufficient.”

Endorsements: Endorsed by state Democratic Party. Touts endorsements from law enforcement and fire fighting agencies. Supported by labor unions including United Steelworkers, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. Endorsed by Planned Parenthood. Rated “Recommended” by the Bar Association.

Allegheny County Treasurer: Erica Brusselars vs. Herb Ohliger

By Rachel Wilkinson

Illustration of candidates Brusselars-Ohlinger
Erica Brusselars, Herb Ohliger (Illustration by Lucy Chen/Pittsburgh City Paper)

The county treasurer is charged with managing billions of dollars per year, collecting revenue and investing and disbursing these funds on behalf of the county. Incumbent John Weinstein will vacate the office after nearly 25 years, leaving a contest between Democrat Erica Rocchi Brusselars and Republican Herb Ohliger.

Erica Brusselars

Bio: Corporate actuary for 14 years, specializing in pensions. Pittsburgh North Side resident and Carnegie Mellon University alumna, originally from California. Former middle school math teacher. Allegheny County Democratic Committee 23rd Ward chair.

Transparency: Told WESA she would publicly report revenues, overdue taxes and other information. Pledged to improve the county’s system for online tax payment and promote greater collaboration with local organizations and officials.

County pension fund: Serving on the Retirement Board of Allegheny County [RBAC] as treasurer, plans to undertake a “holistic study” of long-term funding prospects for the county pension and foster public discussion. Pledged to “daylight” meeting minutes and proposals of the RBAC.

Modernization: Notes many systems of the treasurer’s office are “outdated” and vows to “align and streamline” systems across departments. Wants to prioritize improving county payment portals.

Endorsements: Allegheny County Democratic Committee, Young Democrats of Allegheny County, Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, Steel City Stonewall Democrats and 314 Action Fund (PAC supporting the election of scientists).

Herb Ohliger

Bio: Information systems consultant. Chartiers Valley School Board member. Chairman of Firearms Owners Against Crime, a gun rights advocacy group and PAC “vigorously oppose[d]” to Second Amendment restrictions. Former Republican candidate for sheriff. Former Scott Township commissioner and current resident.

Transparency: Plans on a “new era” of public information as he views the treasurer’s office as “more than just dog licenses,” serving senior citizens and supporting other programs such as boating, hunting and fishing. “It should be easy for the public to know how these programs are managed and how monies are collected,” he told WESA.

County pension fund: Pledges to work with members of RBAC to ensure funds are well invested “with a respectful eye towards risk.” Supports pending ethics reforms to prevent conflicts of interest with financial advisors working for the county pension fund.

Modernization: Pledged to build out online payment systems for county residents and businesses, including more electronic payment options. Said he will collaborate with future county executive to eliminate “unnecessary redundancies” in systems.

Endorsements: None reported.

Allegheny County Controller: Corey O’Connor vs. Bob Howard

By Rachel Wilkinson

Illustrations of candidates Oconnor and Howard
Corey O’Connor, Bob Howard (Illustration by Lucy Chen/Pittsburgh City Paper)

The county controller oversees the operations and finances of any agency that uses county funds. Democratic incumbent Corey O’Connor — appointed to the role in July 2022 after Chelsa Wagner became a judge — faces Republican Bob Howard, appearing on the ballot after a successful write-in campaign.

Bob Howard

Bio: Former controller and accountant for PPG Industries, retired after 34 years. Marshall Township resident. Past North Allegheny School Board president. U.S. Army veteran. Penn State University alumnus (business administration). No campaign website.

Jail reform: Told WESA that Allegheny County Jail operations “require continued scrutiny” to address recent audit findings by the controller’s office. Recommends further auditing to “benchmark” ACJ with peers nationally.

Other county agencies and boards: Sees need to scrutinize “effectiveness” of Allegheny County Housing Authority in addressing homelessness crisis. Wants Pittsburgh Regional Transit to “emerge from the shadow of the COVID-19 era.” Called for full transparency about county pension funding.

Data and accessibility: Plans to release a regular newsletter addressing pressing concerns, as information remains “buried.” 

Endorsements: Local Republican committees; others not reported.

Corey O’Connor

Bio: Appointed by Gov. Tom Wolf with state Senate approval in 2022. Previously Pittsburgh councilor for District 5 (2012-2022). Swisshelm Park resident. Son of late Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O’Connor. Campaign website lists accomplishments including efforts to “improve and modernize data transparency.”

Jail reform: Conducted multiple audits of county jail as controller and recently described jail conditions as “deplorable.” Undertook additional audit of county programs for children of the incarcerated. Called for “generally” increased jail oversight.

Other county agencies and boards: Proposed ethics reforms to increase transparency around county pension fund. Highlights record of “standing up to big business” as city councilor. Declared that the Department of Health and Department of Human Services need to “strengthen” staffing levels.

Data and accessibility: Created data dashboards where residents can view county contracts online. Plans for further community forums about “senior support, utility support, and general consumer advocacy.”

Endorsements: Local Democratic officials including Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, state senators and Pittsburgh city councilors. Organizations including Allegheny County Democratic Committee, Allegheny-Fayette County Labor Council, Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and Steel City Stonewall Democrats.

This article was originally published by Pittsburgh City Paper, Pittsburgh’s leading alternative weekly. Read City Paper’s coverage of these elections here.

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