Two seeking Pa. district judge seat

October 17, 2005|by DON AINES

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - The magisterial district judge race for the district that includes Greencastle and Antrim Township is the only contested seat among four that will be on the ballot for the Tuesday, Nov. 8, general election.

Candidates for district judge can crossfile in the primaries, and both did. Magisterial District Judge Shirley M. Shatzer won the Democratic nomination by a vote of 259 to 209 over challenger Duane K. Cunningham, while Cunningham defeated Shatzer for the Republican nomination, 804 to 697.

Cunningham, 37, of 12501 Carol Ave., is the manager of Cunningham's Body Shop in Antrim Township and has successfully completed the Minor Judiciary Board Qualifying School. Candidates do not have to have taken the course to run for the office, he said, but taking the course and passing the examination is required before a person can hold the office.


Shatzer, 69, of 142 E. Madison St., was nominated for the District 39-3-05 seat by former Gov. Tom Ridge and confirmed by the Pennsylvania Senate in 1998 after the retirement of her predecessor, John Ommert, for whom she had served as office manager. She ran successfully in 1999 for a six-year term that began in 2000.

State law requires district judges to retire at the end of the calendar year in which they turn 70, according to Art Heinz, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

Shatzer, however, said she is in no hurry to retire.

"If I were to win the election and they have to appoint someone, I can serve as a senior district justice until I'm 75," Shatzer said. That means she could serve until an appointment is made, or a special election, she said.

"I hate not to run. I enjoy serving the people," Shatzer said when asked why she chose to run again. Shatzer said her health is good and she has the experience to continue serving the public.

Heinz said judicial vacancies, whether by retirement or death, require the governor to nominate a person who is subject to Senate approval. A special election would then be scheduled for the next year in which elections for judicial offices are held, in this case 2007, Heinz said.

"I believe I can serve the citizens of Greencastle and Antrim Township in a manner that is fair and use a common sense approach to individual cases," said Cunningham, who for 10 years has been managing the business his family started in 1937. He said his 18 years in the business and working relationships with local and state police and fire companies have helped familiarize him with aspects of the law, particularly the motor vehicle code.

"I did pretty well on that part of the examination," he said.

Both candidates said working with young people is important to them.

In addition to arraignments and preliminary hearings for those charged with criminal violations, magisterial district justices also handle small claims civil cases involving sums less than $8,000. Since a pay raise went into effect July 8, magisterial district judges are paid $74,566 a year, Heinz said.

Running unopposed for re-election on Nov. 8 are magisterial district judges Larry Pentz in the Waynesboro, Pa., area; David Hawbaker in the Mercersburg, Pa., area; and Gary Carter in Chambersburg, Pa.

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