Letter: Who is the best choice for district justice? I say Donze

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To The Editor,

In this crazy political time how does one even know the truth about a candidate or their real reasons for wanting a position? How do you cast your vote for the best qualified, ethical candidate that knows our communities and shares the values of our residents at large? …or doesn’t have a shaded past (which is a reasonable predictor of future behavior), or has the right set of qualifications, education and appropriate experience to meet the un-biased candidate requirements in the PA Rules of Conduct for the position?

A local race for Magisterial District Judge indeed presents a challenge for the un- or mis-informed. Most will vote for their friend or for who another friend tells them to, or because their candidate once did them a favor, or simply straight party.  Since November’s election, so many voters of both parties have openly pledged in everyday conversation to “get more involved” and really look for the best candidate and better educate themselves. But it takes a lot of work and time to dig below the surface.  I had no allegiance to any MDJ candidate before digging into this, nor am I part of any campaign committee. So I share this with you to save you the agony of digging into it. Through a combination of exhaustive internet, candidate website, supporter websites, and facebook searches, people who know the candidates, words out of the candidates own mouths, meeting most of them, and Open Records Requests (aka Right to Know), here’s a general overview.

What you have is A candidate, Jane Donze, Esq., with the most (25+) years of experience as a licensed practicing attorney, who has a local law practice in the district (Willowdale for 19+ years), and the highest ethics ratings on all legal websites researched.  She never held a political or governmental position, is involved in our communities by serving in non-profit organizations, minority/juvenile organizations, is an active business community member and comes from a family of a highly respected Superior Court Judge. Up against one candidate with less than half the experience, a second whose law practice is outside the district, and two who are not even attorneys. 

Many voters believe all the candidates are attorneys. Only three of the five are attorneys. You would think having a law degree and passing the Bar Exam with a minimum of 15 or 20 years in relevant practice would be the minimum qualifications for a Judge. However, Pennsylvania allows a Magisterial District Judge to serve with taking of a 30-day course. And our taxpayers get to pay that individual over $89,000 a year in the position of our Judge. Many MDJs in PA are not attorneys, but without naming names, out of the first five sitting MDJs I researched, (who incidentally were not attorneys), three of those were either temporarily or permanently dismissed from their post due to legal actions against them related to the office of MDJ. I stopped looking after five. Very disturbing. To be fair, many MDJs who are not attorneys likely do a commendable job, but my guess is it is those with a strong set of ethics, integrity, non-partisanship, and no sordid lawsuits or legal actions in their personal or professional lives. I celebrate and thank such judges on the bench.

Others think that a District Judge does not have significantly important responsibilities. Not true. All criminal cases and civil cases up to $12,000 initially come through a District Judge’s office and are steered by the first decisions the District Judge makes. Traffic tickets, DUIs, assaults, rapes, murders, taking confessions, issuing search warrants, civil cases-not much that doesn’t come across their desk to take the first critical steps, while passing final life changing judgements in many of these cases. The knowledge of and experience with the prosecution and defense sides of the legal and judicial processes and knowing the rule of law takes decades to master, not 30 days. Making arrests, investigating, transporting prisoners, or administering law officer arrest proceedings in a courtroom along with a short course does not give one the necessary practice to make non-biased rulings. Although of course law officers are an extremely important part of a team, along with emergency responders, that make up our incident response system, and I have the highest regard for their dedication and hard work.

Having done much research on all the candidates and studied the Pennsylvania Rules of Conduct for MDJs, there is also the requirement of non-partisanship.  Yet one candidate ( a non-attorney) was holding his years long Republican Committeeman post according to the County Republican website three months after announcing his candidacy. A clear violation of the Code as I read it. Another candidate (a non-attorney) is employed by the County, answering to many in the same party. All five candidates have cross filed and will be on both the Democratic and Republican Primary ballots. So when wondering which one will best serve your family and our seven communities, ask your questions of these candidates when they introduce themselves, or take my word for it. I did do the research and have now shared this knowledge with you. You are now much better informed. The Primary is May 16. This time there is a very clear best choice. Why should we settle for anything less?

Lauressa J. McNemar,


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