New judicial lines remain unclear

June 27th, 2015 1:22 am

First Posted: 2/3/2013

As the song says, the waiting is the hardest part.

And for two local lawyers, the Tom Petty track rings true.

A plan submitted to the state by Luzerne County that would add Yatesville and Pittston and Jenkins townships to the magisterial district court housed at Pittston City Hall, seems to be held up.

The seat, vacated when Fred Pierantoni became a Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas judge, is on the primary ballot in May and several have already thrown their hats into the ring.

But Jackie Musto Carroll, of Yatesville, and Girard Mecadon, of Jenkins Township, who both have expressed an interest in the seat, are unable to announce their candidacies until the district is officially realigned because they live within the newly proposed district.

The first day to circulate and file nominations petitions in Pennsylvania is February 19.

Musto Carroll and Mecadon said they hope to have an answer by then. I really can't do anything until it's realigned, Musto Carroll said.

This is an important position and magisterial elections don't come around very often, Mecadon said. It's unfair they are doing this to the voters.

Officially in the mix are Attorney Alexandra Sciandra Kokura, a special master in Lackawanna County Family Court; James Red O'Brien, the former Luzerne County Recorder of Deeds; and Attorney Mark Singer, the former president of the Pittston Area School Board. Other names being mentioned are former Luzerne County Deputy Prothonotary Arthur Bobbouine, former Luzerne County Acting Sheriff Charles Guarneri, and former Pittston City Council Candidate Barb Zangre.

The plan, generated by the county and required by the state every 10 years, must be approved by the State Supreme Court.

Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Thomas Burke submitted the proposed plan under a directive from the administrative office of Pennsylvania courts that seeks to eliminate 50 magisterial districts in Pennsylvania

Burke has said the reorganization attempts to group judges with specific school districts where feasible so the magisterial judges can have a bigger impact in minimizing truancy and crime.

The vast Pittston and Jenkins townships and small borough of Yatesville are currently in the territory of District Judge Diana Malast in Plains Township whose district would be reduced to just Laflin and Plains Township.

The Pittston seat is currently occupied on an interim basis by Senior Magisterial Judge Andrew Barilla Jr., formerly the longtime Swoyersville judge. He was appointed to the seat after Judge Fred Pierantoni was elected to the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas.

Mecadon fears if the court waits until after the election to approve the new district, it will disenfranchise residents of Jenkins Township, Pittston Township and Yatesville because they will have no vote or say in who will be their Magistrate for the next six years.

Mecadon said the delay is holding up his campaign.

I get supporters calling me and asking me why I'm not running, he said. They're asking who they should support.

Musto Carroll, the former Luzerne County District Attorney, said her hands are tied. I am interested in the seat, but I can't make a formal announcement until I find out if I'll be in that district, she said. I figured they would have straightened all this out by now.

Magisterial district judges are elected to six-year terms and are paid $72,000 a year. As a senior judge, Barilla is paid on a per diem basis

The proposal keeps Magisterial Judge Joe Carmody's district the same – Exeter, West Pittston, West Wyoming, Wyoming and Exeter. The proposal eliminates one court seat, the Freeland seat.

According to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, judicial redistricting is required every 10 years to determine how to allocate state court system resources. The plan is to reduce the state's 539 magisterial districts by roughly 10 percent or about 55 seats statewide.

In the past several weeks, the state Supreme Court has approved the redistricting plans for seven counties, so Luzerne County may not be far off.

We'll just have to wait and see, Mecadon said.