Pennsylvania voters will see two Jewish judicial candidates on their ballots for the general election on Nov. 3: Judge David Wecht, who is running for a seat on the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania; and Judge Alice Dubow, who is seeking election to the bench of the Superior Court. Both candidates are Democrats.
Judge David Wecht
A dozen candidates are vying for three seats that are up for grabs on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court this election, a result of the retirement or resignation of three justices. Democrats hope to win two of the seats to flip the bench’s partisan balance in their favor. The court’s partisan makeup is currently 3-2 Republican, with two vacancies. The term of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice is 10 years.
Wecht, a native Pittsburgher, is one of three Jewish judges on the Superior Court — one of Pennsylvania’s two statewide intermediate appellate courts. As a Superior Court judge, Wecht has authored more than 430 decisions.
Throughout his tenure on the Superior Court, Wecht, 53, has been an advocate of transparency.
“When I ran for Superior Court, I campaigned on the basis that all Superior Court decisions had to be available for public review,” he said. “After I took my seat on the Superior Court, all the decisions were put online.”
Wecht, a resident of Fox Chapel, continues to campaign on a platform of transparency and ethics and has proposed a comprehensive plan to address what he perceives as shortcomings in Pennsylvania’s Code of Judicial Conduct. His plan includes: banning all gifts to judges; installing cameras in all Pennsylvania courtrooms; requiring all judges to state on the record their reasons for granting or denying recusal requests; ending judicial nepotism; and mandatory ethics training for all judicial candidates.
“I think it’s very important to put cameras in the courtroom,” Wecht said. “It’s farcical that I can watch a trial in another state on my iPad, but not see what’s happening in a court in my own state. People used to come to court to watch trials all the time, but it doesn’t really happen anymore. ‘Open courts’ should mean that people can see courts in action. Pennsylvania should be in the lead on things and not be bringing up the rear.”
There is currently one Jewish justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Max Baer, who will be retiring at end of 2017. Electing another Jewish jurist to replace Baer is important, Wecht said, not just for the Jews of the commonwealth, but also for the general citizenry.
“Jews have a proud tradition of following the law and articulating the law,” Wecht said. “We are the people of the law.”
Pennsylvania will benefit from a continuing Jewish presence on the Supreme Court, Wecht continued, because there are cases that will come before the court in which a Jewish perspective will prove to be valuable, such as cases involving hate crimes and discrimination.
Wecht has been active in Jewish affairs since childhood, when he was a member of the ZOA’s youth group, called Masada. He has been to Israel 11 times, and was the chair of the pro-Israel group Yale Friends of Israel when he was an undergrad at the Ivy League school. Wecht also graduated from the Yale Law School. He was an active member of AIPAC until he took the bench in 2003 on the Court of Common Pleas, where he sat for nearly nine years before his election to the Superior Court.
He is a member of Adat Shalom and is active at Chabad of Fox Chapel. Wecht is the son of Cyril Wecht, a former county commissioner and Allegheny County coroner and medical examiner.
Judge Alice Dubow
Philadelphia Judge Alice Beck Dubow, who has sat on the Court of Common Pleas since 2007, will face Republican Emil Giordano in the general election for a 10-year term on the Superior Court.
Dubow, 56, is the granddaughter of Russian Jewish immigrants. Her mother, Judge Phyllis Beck, made history as the first woman elected to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.
“Through my whole professional career, my mother as a role model has had a tremendous influence on me,” Dubow said. “She’s smart, she respects the law, she’s practical, and she has lot of common sense.”
Dubow has been able to channel those same qualities as a trial court judge, she said, as well as the notion of respecting everyone, and the “willingness to take a risk and try something new.”
Following her graduation from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Dubow worked as a law clerk for a judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Bucks County before beginning a career as a commercial litigator at Philadelphia-area law firms.
In 1992, Dubow began her public service work as an assistant city solicitor for the City of Philadelphia and later went on to become a lawyer for Drexel University.
In 2007, Dubow was elected to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, where she has presided over cases concerning abused and neglected children; personal injury and malpractice cases; and criminal trials.
While she was inspired by her mother’s intellect and penchant for challenges, Dubow did not enter law school with the aim of eventually ascending the bench.
“I thought I could help people by being a lawyer,” she said. “But I never quite had a game plan. I went to law school more for the intellectual challenge.”
After working at a big law firm, a small law firm, the city of Philadelphia and a university, she was ready to launch a campaign for judge, to “try something completely new,” she said. “My kids were in high school, and I had the energy to do it.”
She has found great satisfaction as a trial judge, she said, but is ready to take on a bigger challenge.
“As a trial judge, I have the ability to help people,” she said. “There are times that I can make a decision that will make a major difference in someone’s life.”
While on the bench, she has made custody decisions that have given parents the motivation to get dependency help in order to be reunited with their children. She has connected with teenagers who came before her bench ready to quit school, and has convinced them to finish their education. While serving on criminal court, she has “had the ability to take really bad people off the street for a very long time,” she explained.
She intends to continue to make a positive difference in people’s lives if elected to the appellate court.
“There is a limit to what I can do in the Court of Common Pleas,” she said. “I would like to be in a position where I can interpret the law.”
She noted her own “strong progressive values” and the fact that she enjoys “dealing with complex legal issues” as attributes that make her a compelling judicial candidate.
She anticipates many issues concerning marriage equality coming before the bench in the coming years in the absence of a Pennsylvania law specifically detailing that right. Additionally, new issues in criminal law emerging from technological advances will have to be decided.
Dubow grew up outside of Philadelphia, and celebrated her bat mitzvah at a Conservative synagogue. For the past 20 years, she, her husband and her two children have been members of the Reform congregation Or Ami, where she has served on the board of trustees.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.