- Associated Press - Monday, February 9, 2015

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - The Republican Party’s endorsed candidate for one of three open seats on Pennsylvania’s high court blasted a state bar association panel on Monday for what she says is an unfair and unethical attempt to knock her out of the race.

Commonwealth Court Judge Anne Covey released a letter criticizing the Judicial Evaluation Commission, which rates candidates for the three appellate courts, calling the evaluation process “severely flawed, unbalanced and conducted in a reckless disregard for the truth and personal reputation and appropriate due process.”

Best known as the judge in the now-settled court case involving NCAA sanctions against Penn State, Covey was endorsed by the state GOP on Jan. 31 but remains unrated by the bar panel.

Covey said the panel gave her an ultimatum to drop out or face a negative rating because of a TV ad she aired in her 2011 Commonwealth Court campaign, which she said violates her right to free speech. A former labor relations lawyer, she had received a “recommended” rating from the bar panel in that campaign.

The exact content of the TV ad in question was unclear Monday, and no one from the Judicial Evaluation Commission responded publicly Monday to Covey’s allegations.

Covey called on the commission to release its investigators’ reports and demanded the resignation of its chairman, Robert Morris.

She also said a Penn State trustee on the commission has a conflict because he did not recuse himself from the panel’s deliberations about her. She did not identify the trustee, although Keith Eckel of Lackawanna County serves on both boards.

Neither Morris nor Eckel immediately returned telephone messages from The Associated Press seeking comment Monday.

Francis X. O’Connor, the Pennsylvania Bar Association president to whom Covey addressed her letter, said the commission, though supported by the bar, is independent and made up of volunteer lawyers and non-lawyers.

“While some of the candidates may not agree with the ratings issued, the (commission) strives to provide the voting public with an objective evaluation of candidates” who stand for election or retention, he said.

Of the three candidates who were endorsed by the Republican Party leaders, only one - Adams County Judge Michael George - was recommended by the bar panel.

The other - Superior Court Judge Judy Olson - was interviewed by the commission on Monday but said afterward she did not know what her rating would be or when it would be made public.

Two other candidates offered different perspectives.

Montour County District Attorney Rebecca Warren, the only candidate so far to receive a “not recommended” rating, said she received several emails and phone messages from Morris in the days leading up to the Jan. 29 release of her rating, urging her to drop out and avoid the rating being made public.

“Their process did not afford the candidate due process or fairness,” she said.

Correale Stevens, a former Superior Court judge who was appointed to the Supreme Court to complete the term of a justice who resigned, received the top “highly qualified” rating but not the party’s endorsement. He scolded Covey for attacking the bar panel.

“Casting aspersions on the integrity of the entire group of lawyers and non-lawyers who volunteer countless hours to assist the public in knowing more information about judicial candidates serves no purpose,” Stevens said.

Covey said she provided five references to the commission’s investigators - one sitting member from each of the state Supreme, Superior and Commonwealth courts, one former Supreme Court justice and a law school classmate who practices in federal and state courts across the country.

“In private conversations with these individual references, I was told that I had been given the highest marks and strongest recommendations” regarding her legal opinions, intelligence and judicial independence, she said.

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