by Jonathan Weaver
A trio of Pennsylvania Superior Court judges will rule on cases at the Armstrong County Courthouse this week.
Armstrong County Judge James Panchik explained that the Superior Court involves a group of elected judges that hear appeals from Court of Common Pleas dockets from throughout the state.
“The President Judge of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, Judge (Susan Peikes) Gantman and (Armstrong County President) Judge (Kenneth) Valasek agreed to have the panel of three judges – Judge Mary Jane Bowes, Judge Judith Ference Olsen and Judge Victor P. Stabile – sit here in Kittanning,” Judge Panchik said. “This has been in planning for a year.”
According to the Superior Court calendar updated September 3, judges will hear arguments on nearly 50 cases during the two days – including the criminal appeal of Otilio Cosme, of Ford City (who was sentenced to up to three years in jail on charges of involuntary manslaughter during a St. Patrick’s Day fight in Kittanning in 2013), two cases involving Elderton State Bank and another filed by Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Judge Panchik said that cases are usually heard in court rooms in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg or Philadelphia, but this week’s court arguments – which begin at 9:30AM each day in Courtroom 1 – are an opportunity for transparency.
Judges Bowes and Olsen both were in the county last year as part of a legal continuing education course for the Armstrong County Bar Association.
“That really spawned the idea to have arguments here,” Judge Panchik said.
Armstrong County Bar Association President Andrew Sacco, a lawyer at Steiner Law Office in Kittanning, said one of the topics the Superior Court judges explained to the nearly-30 lawyers last year was how to properly file those appeals. He also encouraged local residents to sit in on the court cases this week.
“People see stuff on television (or) read about it in the newspaper, but this is an opportunity to actually see it in action live,” Sacco said.
Judge Olsen – a classmate of Judge Panchik’s from Duquesne University School of Law in 1982 – has also appeared at Armstrong County Republican Committee events earlier this year as she hopes to be elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
High school students from Armstrong, West-Shamokin, Freeport, Karns City, Leechburg and Divine Redeemer School in Ford City have all been invited to the proceedings.
“We’re very pleased to open up our courthouse to the Superior Court so they can see Armstrong County and see our courtroom,” Judge Panchik continued. “It’s an opportunity to showcase the county to them and it’s an opportunity for our local residents to see how the courts operate.
Judge Panchik is scheduled for to hear trial arguments both days, but hopes to sit on the Superior Court decisions the morning of September 17.
During Judge Panchik’s eight-year tenure, about 10 pages of criminal court cases have been appealed.
Superior Court judges last sat in the Armstrong County Courthouse in 2000.
Judge J. Frank Graff, a Republican judge from Kittanning, served with the Superior Court in 1930. Judge Graff served more than 57 years on the bench before his death at Armstrong County Memorial Hospital in 1981.
Judge Graff was appointed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court by Gov. John Fisher, but was defeated in the Primary Election later that year by Judge James Drew of Allegheny County.
Judge Drew went on to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Hearing cases in local counties is not restricted to Armstrong County. Communications Coordinator of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts in Harrisburg Art Heinz said Superior Court judges heard arguments in Washington County this past April.