Financial Responsibility & Judicial Temperament

This is fifth in a series of posts highlighting my experience in each of the ten factors in evaluating a judicial candidate, as suggested by C. Dale McClain, a former President of the Pennsylvania Bar Association in a 2009 blog post:

1. Legal ability. 

2. Trial or other similar experience that ensures knowledge of the law and courtroom procedures.

3. A record and reputation for excellent character and integrity

4. Financial responsibility. 

5. Judicial temperament. 

6. Mental and physical capacity to fulfill the duties of judicial office. 

7. Record of community involvement. 

8. Administrative ability. 

9. Devotion to improvement of the quality of justice. 

10. Demonstrated sound judgment in professional life. 

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As of today, there are 72 days until May 8, 2018, Primary Election Day!  In the interests of time and because one is so short, I'm covering two topics for this post.

Financial Responsibility

In McClain's post (see sidebar), he discusses some specifics:

4. Financial responsibility. Financial responsibility in a candidate shows self-discipline and the ability to resist pressures that might threaten judicial independence and impartiality. Check whether a candidate has had judgments or liens or bankruptcy proceedings instituted by or against him or her and whether the candidate has promptly and properly filed all required tax returns.

I can address this issue in one sentence:  I am up-to-date on all tax filings and payments, I pay appropriate taxes for our housekeeper, I've never filed for bankruptcy, and I've successfully run a small business (Stafford Law Office, LLC) for the last thirteen years.  

Judicial Temperament

In McClain's post (see sidebar), he discusses some specifics:

5. Judicial temperament. A candidate should show qualities of patience, open-mindedness, courtesy, tact, firmness, understanding, compassion and humility. A candidate should be able to deal with people calmly and courteously and should be willing to hear and consider the views of all sides of a case. A good judge needs to be even-tempered, yet firm; open-minded, yet willing and able to reach a decision; confident, yet not self-centered.

Compassion is key.  I became an attorney to help people and I’ve been a consistent pro bono attorney for low income and vulnerable people starting with the Haitian Refugee Project in law school, through my current work as a volunteer attorney with District 10 and CASA. Compassion is important to every client I’ve ever had—and to every adverse party.  I’ve been to court as a client. It can be scary. Having a compassionate judge can make all the difference.

It is critical for our local judges to treat all who enter our legal system in a fair and transparent way. That means everything from listening carefully with an open mind and without inserting personal biases, to issuing decisions promptly.  My goal is that if you come into my court, that you will know why I make the decision I do—even if you don’t agree with it.

I'm grateful to have been able to serve as a Judge Pro Tempore (substitute Judge) many times over the past decade.  As a Judge-for-a-day, I review the case file, listen carefully to both sides, and issue a decision.  As a member of the Leadership Team for Monroe County Showing Up for Racial Justice (Monroe County SURJ), I'm participating in activities and training to help me recognize and ameliorate both explicit and implicit racial bias.  I am grateful for the chance to work toward justice inside and outside courtrooms in our community.

Catherine Stafford