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Franklin County prepares for fourth judge

February 20, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Franklin County officials are getting ready to make room for a fourth judge for Franklin and Fulton counties.

The Franklin County Commissioners will spend more than $200,000 for office, chambers and courtroom space for the new judge, his secretary, law clerk and law library, said John Hart, county administrator. The state will pay the $104,000 annual salary for the new judge.

Room could be found in existing courthouse space or elsewhere, Hart said. He said the county may also consider an electronic courtroom where the defendants remain in jail before a video camera during their trials and hearings. "We're considering alternatives," Hart said, including nightcourt.

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The Pennsylvania Legislature approved earlier this month and the governor signed a bill to add a fourth Common Pleas Court judge for Franklin and Fulton counties. The 39th District's new judge will be among 23 being across the state. The district's third judge was added in the late 1980s.

The decision to add a fourth judge came in part from a growing caseload in Franklin County and lobbying by President Judge John R. Walker and other local officials who asked local legislators for help.

Judicial candidates have until March 11 to present a filing petition to the state election bureau in Harrisburg, county election officials said. Whoever is elected will take office Jan. 1, 1998.

Franklin County District Attorney John F. Nelson said he has no interest in running for judge. He said he likes his present job which pays $1,000 less than judges make.

Members of the Fulton County Bar Association have long lobbied for a separate judge for that county, but such a move is unlikely, said Dwight Harvey, Fulton County's part-time district attorney. Harvey said it was also unlikely that any Fulton County lawyer will run or could win because of the population disparity between both counties.

Fulton County's population, at 14,000 people, is roughly 10 percent of that of Franklin County, Harvey said.

"What we ultimately want here is our own judge, but we will always be the tail of the dog," Harvey said.

The election campaign for the new judge's seat is already underway.

At least one candidate has announced a run for the seat.

Waynesboro attorney Richard J. "Dick" Walsh, 47, a partner in Maxwell, Maxwell & Walsh, said Thursday he's already on the stump. He spent Thursday afternoon knocking on doors asking Republican voters to sign a petition that would get his name on the ballot. Walsh said he hopes to sign up more than the 250 names he needs so he can enter the race with a show of support. He also plans to cross-file and seek signatures from Democratic voters.

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