Lawyers compete for State College district judge seat

The race for an open district judge seat in downtown State College pits two political newcomers against each other in Tuesday’s general election.

Susan Bardo and Steve Lachman are vying to fill the seat of former district judge Jonathan D. Grine, who was elected as a county judge in 2011. Robert Horner has been filling Grine’s former seat.

Both Bardo and Lachman cross-filed in the May primary. Bardo came away with the Republican nomination and Lachman got the Democratic nod.

Both candidates are attorneys who say their legal background prepares them for the job.

District judges handle arraignments, fix and accept bail, issue warrants and hold preliminary hearings. They also have jurisdiction over summary offenses, landlord-tenant disputes and civil claims not exceeding $12,000, among other responsibilities.

Bardo said her experience working as an attorney for the past eight years will allow her to hit the ground running as district judge.

“I have more experience that is relevant to the position,” Bardo said. “I’ve practiced the types of law that come before a (district judge). I feel prepared legally to walk into the position.”

Bardo works at Stover, McGlaughlin, Gerace, Weyandt & McCormick, where her responsibilities include family law, real estate, wills and estate, civil litigation, contracts and property damage.

“I have a lot of experience applying the law,” she said. “I understand what arguments need to be made.”

Bardo said that a district judge’s role is to be objective and to make decisions that help preserve relationships in the community.

“My main priority going into office is to be impartial and independent,” Bardo said.

She said she would like to widen the scope of diversionary programs used by the court and to help educate students both at Penn State and in local schools.

“I care about the community,” Bardo said. “I have a 4-year-old daughter. So I care today, but also about what it’s going to be in five or 10 years. I have a future perspective looking at this community.”

Lachman also touts his experience as an attorney as an asset in running for district judge.

“I’m by far the most experienced candidate, having been an attorney for 27 years,” Lachman said. “I’m the only candidate with extensive experience in criminal law from when I was a public defender in Pittsburgh.”

Lachman got his start in the Allegheny County public defender’s office and has since worked as an attorney for the state Department of Environmental Protection and at a solo practice in State College. From 2008 to 2012, he was an assistant professor of legal writing at Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law. He also has earned his doctorate in geography from Penn State.

He said his experience attending, teaching and sending his children to Penn State gives him the necessary perspective for a district judge seat that will deal largely with university students.

Lachman said that this district judge must help integrate students into the community and protect the morals of the community.

“I see my role more as an educator than a disciplinarian,” he said. “When students go astray, I want to see if I can get them back on the right side.”

Lachman said he would allow first-time offenders to participate in diversionary programs or get counseling.

“If they haven’t learned a lesson that way, then we treat it more seriously and more punitive consequences are served.”

Uncontested races

Dutchcot, seeking her second term, won handily over challenger Ron Quinn Jr. on both ballots in the May primary.

A Duquesne University School of Law graduate and practicing attorney since 2000, Dutchot was first elected to the seat in 2007.

Centre County Assistant District Attorney Kelley Gillette-Walker is unopposed on the ballot in her quest for the district judge seat representing Bellefonte, Milesburg, Howard and Unionville boroughs and Benner, Boggs, Curtin, Liberty, Marion, Spring, Union, Howard and Walker townships.

A Centre County native, Gillette-Walker is a graduate of Penn State and the Temple University School of Law. She has been an attorney for 13 years, including the past three as a prosecutor.

She defeated a field of three other candidates to win both party nominations in the primary.

Incumbent District Judge Carmine Prestia faces an uncontested race to retain his seat serving State College. Prestia faced no competition in the primary, and has both Republican and Democratic nominations.