- Associated Press - Saturday, January 31, 2015

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - The Republican State Committee on Saturday threw its support behind two state appellate judges and a county judge for an unprecedented three openings on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, though it was clear that they won’t be the only candidates in the GOP primary this spring.

Winding up a two-day winter meeting at a Harrisburg hotel, the committee endorsed Adams County President Judge Michael George, Superior Court Judge Judy Olson and Commonwealth Court Judge Ann Covey - in that order - out of a field of five hopefuls.

George has been on the Adams County bench since 2002 and previously served as the county’s district attorney. Olson was elected to the Superior Court in 2009 after a brief stint as an Allegheny County judge and more than 20 years in private practice. Covey, a former Bucks County labor lawyer and the first woman appointed to the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, was elected to the Commonwealth Court in 2011.

At least two other appellate judges vowed to challenge the party slate in the May 19 primary.

Supreme Court Justice Correale Stevens, a veteran Superior Court judge whom former Gov. Tom Corbett appointed in 2013 to fill a vacancy resulting from a resignation, said he is running for a full 10-year term. He said he did not participate in the endorsement process because it would be inappropriate for a sitting justice.

Stevens, who is 68, said he hopes the Legislature passes and voters approve a pending constitutional amendment that would increase the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75.

“I would not be running if I thought that I would (serve) for only one year,” he said.

Superior Court Judge Cheryl Allen, who placed fourth among those who sought endorsements, also said she will remain in the race. She said GOP voters decide who is nominated and that the several hundred members of the state committee should not have so much influence.

“The problem with the endorsement process is, if you are not endorsed, you are strongly encouraged to depart from the race. … That serves to limit the choices that the public has and that’s not the democratic way,” she said.

A seat on the state’s highest court comes with a salary that’s currently more than $203,000 a year.

Also Saturday, the committee endorsed Northampton County Judge Emil Giordano for an open seat on the Superior Court and Pittsburgh lawyer Paul Lalley for an open seat on the Commonwealth Court. Judges on both courts also serve 10-year terms and receive a salary that is nearly $192,000 this year.

As he opened the endorsement voting, state party Chairman Rob Gleason reminded the committee members that endorsements are only recommendations and that others are free to compete for the nomination in the May 19 primary.

“The (endorsement) vote is your choice to exercise the party’s voice,” he said.

All candidates have until May 10 to collect at least 1,000 voters’ signatures, including 100 from each of at least five counties, in order to qualify for the ballot.

The Democratic State Committee is scheduled to consider issuing judicial endorsements Feb. 21.

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