Centre County district judges, other local officials sworn in

District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller held out a black robe with the initials “KGW” stitched into the tag.

Then, Kelley Gillette-Walker, a former assistant district attorney in Parks Miller’s office, slipped it on as family, friends and co-workers snapped photos of her in the robe she will wear as the new district judge for the Bellefonte area for the next six years.

Gillette-Walker was among those elected in November who were sworn in Friday during a ceremony at the Centre County Courthouse.

“It’s just amazing to think about the gravity of the job and all of the trust people have put into me,” Gillette-Walker said after the ceremony. “It’s very humbling, and I’m very honored.”

Joining the ranks as a district judge is State College lawyer Steven Lachman, who will preside over the western half of the borough. A longtime lawyer, Lachman most recently was an instructor at Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law.

“I’m looking forward to serving the people,” said Lachman, who campaigned that he would use the position to create respect for the law. “It’s the greatest way to practice the law.”

Incumbent district judges Leslie Dutchcot and Carmine Prestia were sworn in Friday, as well.

District judges handle summary offenses, landlord-tenant disputes and civil claims less than $12,000, and they preside over preliminary hearings and issue search warrants during the criminal process.

District judges’ salaries for 2014 are $86,899 and are paid by the state.

Gillette-Walker, of Bellefonte, took over the office of longtime magistrate Daniel Hoffman, who retired last year and served as a senior judge through the election. Gillette-Walker swept the primary election against three competitors last May, winning both parties’ nominations to run unchallenged in November.

Lachman, of State College, took over the office vacated in 2012 by Jonathan Grine, who won election as a county judge.

Lachman defeated lawyer Susan Bardo 791-576 in November’s election to win the seat.

The state judiciary did not appoint replacements for either Hoffman or Grine, so both offices had been run by senior judges part-time. With Gillette-Walker and Lachman taking office, it will mean that all of Centre County’s district judgeships are running full-time.

Gillette-Walker said she is looking forward to exploring and using more diversionary programs, such as the Youthful Offender Program, which allows people charged with underage drinking the opportunity to have their record cleared if they take classes on the effects of alcohol.

Lachman said he plans to increase the use of mediation in landlord-tenant disputes and other civil matters, and he’ll look to maximize the diversionary programs on a case-by-case basis for first-time offenders who come through his courtroom.

Parks Miller, who also was sworn in Friday after running unopposed in the last year’s elections, said Gillette-Walker’s assistant prosecutor position is in the process of being filled.

This story has been updated with the following correction: Magisterial district judges preside over civil claims of less than $12,000.