Nine candidates vie to fill three vacancies in the Lehigh County Courts

Written by on April 14, 2021

 Nine candidates vie to fill three vacancies in the Lehigh County Courts

By Genesis Ortega

April 14, 2021

Photo by Pexels

In Lehigh County, there are nine candidates vying for three open seats on the Court of Common Pleas. That’s the trial court that hears major criminal and civil cases and also includes family, child custody and support.

 

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But campaigning for judicial races is different from other contests and presents challenges for candidates who are trying to stand out from the crowd. 

Just like sitting judges, candidates for judicial offices need to appear impartial. They can’t express personal opinions on hot-button issues they might have to rule on. And that limits what they can talk about.

At a recent forum hosted by the Lehigh Valley’s Islamic Education Center, the candidates for Court of Common Pleas, all attorneys, were simply asked to identify what set them apart.

Tom Capehart focused his remarks on his own public service. 

“My service to the community is very important to me. And if I am selected and elected as a judge it’ll be the next step and another way to help serve our community,” Capehart says. 

District Justice Rashid Santiago also emphasized his personal connection to working for the public good. He said he was raised by a single mother, was in Head Start, was the first in his family to graduate from high school, and grew up in public housing. 

“My calling to public service comes from being the beneficiary of public servants,” Santiago says. 

The theme of resilience was also a common denominator for some others. 

Eman Jarrah is the deputy solicitor for Lehigh County.

“My parents immigrated to the United States from Syria and they instilled in my siblings and I the importance of hard work, ethics, and integrity,” Jarrah says.

Northampton County chief deputy district attorney Patricia Fuentes Mulqueen said her work ethic stems from her parents. They left Puerto Rico and raised 10 children here.

“And I think of how difficult that must have been for my parents who did not speak English,” Mulqueen says. 

David Ritter served as deputy district attorney in Lehigh County before opening his own practice. 

“The three things that distinguish me are my local roots, my deep experience and my ability to be fair and a person of character,” Ritter says. 

Zac Cohen, also in private practice, focuses on commercial law and civil litigation. He acknowledged the changing demographics of Lehigh County. 

“It’s amazing just how diverse we are here. And I’ve lived my whole life believing that we need to honor the stranger in our lives,” Cohen says. 

Maraleen Shields, a civil attorney, said diversity in the judiciary matters, and that includes language skills. 

“Because I live here in this community in Lehigh County, I decided to learn to speak Spanish as an adult,” Shields says. 

Lehigh County Solicitor Tom Caffrey and Atty. Carlos Rodriguez are also running but did not participate in the forum. 

All of the judicial candidates are running on both the Democratic and Republican ballots in the May primary. 

And with nine candidates, three open seats on the bench, and an ethical gag order on speaking out on the issues, many experts agree winning a judicial seat largely comes down to name recognition and ballot position on Election Day.

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