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Van Horn sworn in as first woman judge in Franklin Co.

January 03, 2000

Carol Van HornBy DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The newest judge for the 39th District of the Court of Common Pleas said she had little sense of having made history when she took the oath of office Monday.

"I can't say I do, because in this bar association I never viewed my sex as a hindrance to anything I wanted to do," said Carol Van Horn, 41. The Chambersburg attorney has become the first woman judge in the county's 216-year history.

For 190 years of that history there were no women attorneys, the first being Martha Walker, who was admitted to the bar in February 1974.

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Walker was until recently Van Horn's partner in the law firm of Walker, Van Horn & MacBride and is the wife of President Judge John R. Walker.

Van Horn will serve on the bench with Judges Walker, Douglas W. Herman and Richard J. Walsh. She and Walsh both graduated from the Dickinson School of Law in 1982 and were associates in the same Waynesboro, Pa., law firm in the 1980s.

"We drove up together to take the bar exam," Assistant District Attorney Jill McCracken, another Class of '82 graduate, recalled. "It sticks in my mind that we were almost late."

Van Horn became the only candidate for the fourth position on the bench on the Nov. 2 ballot due to the illness of former Judge William H. Kaye, a circumstance Judge Walker noted in his remarks to the 300 guests in the old courtroom.

"We know that all here join the bench in hoping that he can soon leave the hospital to return to his home," the judge said.

Kaye, who spent 12 years on the bench, has undergone treatments and surgery for cancer during the past two years.

"Your presence has been eagerly awaited since we have been short-handed here for almost a year," Walker told Van Horn.

"We ask nothing more of you than hard work, fair-mindedness, dedication, well-reasoned and prompt decisions, a sense of humor, humility and that you conduct yourself inside and outside of the courtroom as befitting your elected position.

"This is no small challenge, but we know you accept it gladly and probably with the appropriate amount of fear and trepidation."

Walker noted Van Horn will be the only member of the bench with experience in domestic relations cases. "We will turn to you as the expert on such matters," he said.

Van Horn will be on the bench today for a civil contempt hearing. Her schedule this week includes hearing a petition to appoint a guardian for an incapacitated person, protection-from-abuse matters, a custody petition and a nonjury criminal case.

"The increasing workload for the court in both civil and criminal matters has imposed burdens on all parties involved in the process," Van Horn said. "I hope that with my addition to the bench some of the scheduling pressures will be alleviated."

The 39th District covers both Franklin and Fulton counties. An associate justice's salary, set by the state, is $113,789.

"I was first a daughter, a sister, and later a wife and mother. I was a practicing attorney for 17 years, and I am a Christian who takes seriously the oath made here today," Van Horn said. "I bring this background of life experiences with me, and while they have shaped my thinking, I pledge to be impartial."

Her husband, John Van Horn, the executive director of the Letterkenny Industrial Development Authority, held the Bible when she took the oath. Daughters Lindsay, 15, Alison, 13, and Rebecca, 7, looked on.

Van Horn said she has spent the weeks since her election closing down her private practice work and observing court. Next week she will attend "judges' school" in State College, Pa., a requirement for all newly elected judges.

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