Panella named to lead court

Peers elect long­time ju­rist pres­i­dent judge of Su­pe­rior Court.

The Morning Call - - STATE/REGION - By Steve Esack [email protected] Twit­ter @se­sack 717-783-7305

HARRISBURG — It's no se­cret Penn­syl­va­nia's elected state court sys­tem is dom­i­nated by ju­rists who hail from the state's two big­gest cities and their sur­round­ing sub­urbs.

That's where a lot of vot­ers live.

Once in a while a ju­rist from out­side those ar­eas wins a seat on the Com­mon­wealth, Su­pe­rior and

Supreme courts.

Now one of those out­siders — Jack Panella — will lead Su­pe­rior Court.

Panella, 63, of Palmer Town­ship, was se­lected Thurs­day by his Su­pe­rior Court peers to be pres­i­dent judge. It's a five-year term that be­gins Jan. 7.

“This is im­por­tant for me com­ing from the Le­high Val­ley,” Panella said in an in­ter­view. “By far most of the judges are from the Philadel­phia and Pitts­burgh [ar­eas].”

If he, the son of laborers with­out a lot of for­mal ed­u­ca­tion, can reach the state courts, oth­ers can, too, Panella said.

“I'd like to try to bring more ap­point­ments to the very good lawyers and other peo­ple in the Le­high Val­ley,” he said.

Panella served as a Northamp­ton County judge for a dozen years be­fore be­com­ing the county's first ju­rist to win elec­tion to Su­pe­rior Court. That oc­curred in Novem­ber 2003. He won a re­ten­tion vote to an­other 10-year term in 2013.

Dur­ing his 27 years on the bench, Panella has au­thored two ju­di­cial text­books used as guides across the state. His first book, “The Penn­syl­va­nia Sex­ual Vi­o­lence Bench­book,” first was pub­lished in 2007 and cov­ers crim­i­nal le­gal is­sues in­volv­ing those cases. His se­cond book in­volved le­gal mat­ters in sex­ual vi­o­lence cases and is used by district judges.

Su­pe­rior Court is the se­cond tier of the state court sys­tem. Its 15 judges, plus about five older se­nior judges, han­dle ap­peals of crim­i­nal, civil and fam­ily le­gal mat­ters that arise from 67 county courts.

Typ­i­cally cases are de­cided by a three-judge panel and writ­ten by one judge. About 20 times a year the full court hears a case.

The pres­i­dent judge car­ries a full case load, picks up ad­min­is­tra­tive du­ties and serves as a li­ai­son be­tween the other courts and the back­room ad­min­is­tra­tion of the sys­tem. There's also the ex­tra re­spon­si­bil­ity of some­times me­di­at­ing dis­putes among ju­rists be­fore they be­come pub­lic.

“Diplo­macy is al­ways good,” Panella said.

In his role, Panella said he will stress unity and con­sen­sus. It's OK to dis­agree, he said, as long the court is not ad­ver­sar­ial. “We work best when we work to­gether,” he said.

Panella fol­lows Pres­i­dent Judge Su­san Peikes Gant­man, who com­pletes her five-year term on Jan. 6.

Vot­ers will se­lect two Su­pe­rior Court judges in the 2019 elec­tion.


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