- Associated Press - Friday, February 20, 2015

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Six judges are competing for endorsements by Democratic Party leaders this weekend in the race for an unprecedented three openings on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The Democratic State Committee is scheduled to vote on the endorsements Saturday as it winds up a two-day meeting in Hershey.

The candidates include three state Superior Court judges: Christine Donohue and David Wecht in Pittsburgh and Anne Lazarus in Philadelphia. The other hopefuls are Philadelphia Judge Kevin Dougherty, Jefferson County Judge John Foradora and Allegheny County Judge Dwayne Woodruff.

At least six Republicans also are expected to compete for their party’s nomination in the May 19 primary. The GOP state committee endorsed three of those candidates last month.

Two of the openings on the seven-member court stem from scandals - Justice Joan Orie Melvin, a Republican, resigned in 2013 following her corruption conviction, and Justice Seamus McCaffery, a Democrat, resigned last year after he was implicated in a pornographic email scandal.

The third vacancy resulted from the departure of Chief Justice Ronald Castille, a Republican who reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 last year.

Among all six Democratic candidates, reform is the battle cry

“How could it be otherwise given the recent events on the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania?” Donohue asked in a telephone interview Friday.

Wecht has distilled his message into a five-point plan that includes calls for a ban on gifts to judges, opening court proceedings to TV broadcasts and a crackdown on judicial nepotism.

All six have positive ratings from the state bar association’s Judicial Evaluation Commission, a volunteer panel of lawyers and non-lawyers who investigate and interview the candidates.

But an endorsement requires the approval of at least two-thirds of the state committee members - a higher bar than the simple majority that the Republican Party requires. That standard prevented the Democrats from endorsing gubernatorial candidates in contested primaries in 2010 and 2014.

The candidates have until March 10 to collect at least 1,000 voters’ signatures each to qualify for the primary ballot. The three top vote-getters in each party will square off in the Nov. 3 general election.

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