Apr. 26—There are five candidates seeking the Democratic and Republican nominations in the primary for two judgeships on Berks County Court.
The attorneys are seeking to fill two vacancies on the bench. Judge James M. Bucci retired last December, and Judge Mary Ann Ullman has announced that she will retire when her term expires this December.
Competing on both ballots are Tina Boyd, Osmer Deming, James Gavin, Kurt Geishauser and Catherine Nadirov. The top two vote-getters on each ballot in the May 18 primary will then move onto the general election.
Judges serve for 10 years, then must run for retention. The position pays $186,665 annually.
We asked the candidates to respond to two questions:
Question 1: Why do you feel you are qualified to sit on the bench in Berks County?
Question 2: What, if any, do you perceive as the greatest obstacles to justice?
Tina Boyd, 49, Oley Township.
Background: Boyd received an undergraduate degree from Penn State University and her juris doctor degree from the Dickinson School of Law. She worked in private practice for about 10 years before joining the Boyd & Karver law firm in Boyertown.
Response 1: For the past 24 years, I have had the privilege to practice in all areas of the court. My passion and desire has always been in helping and serving the families and children of Berks County.
With that being said, I have dedicated the majority of my career to the family law division. As a family law litigator, representing people from all walks of life, I am intimately familiar with the inner workings of a courtroom, wherein I handle cases before the court several times a week.
It is my belief that to be an effective judge it is necessary to understand how decisions made from the bench affect peoples' lives and this community. This is where life experience as a judge is invaluable. My upbringing has definitely laid the foundation for my wisdom, commonsense values and compassion for others, which will serve me well as a judge.
Having been raised by my grandmother on a farm since I was 13 months old, I learned strong work values and a good moral compass. At the age of 5, I testified before a judge in front of my mother and grandmother as to where I wanted to live. This experience has left vivid memories even today and I am thankful for the decision made by the judge. My legal experience, life experiences, integrity and dedication to the families and children of this community are the reasons why I am qualified to serve as a judge to this county.
Response 2: In my opinion, there are three main obstacles to justice in our court system.
The first obstacle is the cost of legal representation. There are several services used in this county to assist indigent and lower income litigants in obtaining legal counsel/advice. Some of these programs include: MidPenn Legal Services, the Pro Bono Program, the Modest Means Program and the Lawyer Referral Service.
As a judge, with unrepresented parties, it is the responsibility of the court to provide suggested resources to eliminate confusion and helplessness. Obviously, anyone has the right to represent themselves, but it is usually not recommended. It is more efficient and cost effective for the taxpayers when parties are represented by counsel.
The second obstacle to justice is the lack of knowledge or education as to the court system and individual rights. This goes hand and hand with obtaining representation. When a party is represented, they are more informed about the process and their legal rights.
The third obstacle to justice are social determinants, such as addiction and mental health issues. The treatment courts in Berks County do a wonderful job in assisting parties who have addiction and/or mental health issues.
In summary, I think Berks County has a good foundation to alleviate these obstacles to justice that our present in every community. I think judges can play a huge part in assisting with the process of fairness and equality to all parties. If elected, I plan to do my part.
Osmer Deming, 49, Muhlenberg Township.
Background: Deming has his own law firm where he specializes in civil litigation, municipal law, unemployment compensation and post-conviction advocacy. He also served as managing director for former Reading Mayor Wally Scott and as a solicitor for the city.
Response 1: I have the experience, work ethic and integrity.
Experience: I have practiced virtually every area of the law: criminal jury trials; civil jury trials; probate; municipal; divorce; custody. You name it. I've done it. But more importantly, I have experience outside the courtroom. I worked three years as a public school teacher, and I've also worked as the managing director for the City of Reading. But experience notwithstanding, what is more important is common sense and compassion.
Work ethic: The public needs judges who will work hard. Fellow lawyers know I have a solid work ethic because they've seen that I am always prepared for court and that my work products are solid. I'm the guy who stays after 5 p.m. or who works on the weekends to finish the job. That's the qualities that you need in a good judge — someone who will put in the hours and make good thoughtful decisions.
Integrity: I will not punish anyone because they have money, and I will not punish anyone if they are broke. Everyone will get the same fair treatment. I'm not going to treat you better or worse because of your last name, where you live, or who you know. In that vein, I'm going to treat everyone in my courtroom with courtesy and respect. I will not raise my voice. I will not be sarcastic. With me, you're going to get a judge with the demeanor of Judge Wapner — not Judge Judy.
Response 2: Money is the greatest obstacle in the justice system as it presently exists. The old joke of "How much justice can you afford?" should be relegated to the past. To the extent that the law allows it, I shall see to it that the necessity of having money to get a good result is minimized. We need an even playing field.
Another barrier that the court system needs to improve upon is language. We must make sure that anyone who does not speak or understand English well is still able to participate and be heard. We can do this by making better use of technology and translation services.
Finally, our court system needs to do more with those who are hamstrung with mental health issues. We need to start by recognizing this for what it is and responding with compassion and resisting the temptation to label those folks as unhelpable because they are "crazy."
James Gavin, 57, Spring Township.
Background: Gavin is a partner at the Wyomissing law firm Masano Bradley who handles all types of cases throughout Pennsylvania. Prior to joining Masano Bradley, he spent eight years as an assistant district attorney in Berks County. At the time of his departure he was chief of the trial unit.
Response 1: The essential qualifications of a judge are integrity, character, experience and legal competence and ability. I have practiced law for more than 32 years. Within that time, I have engaged in an extraordinarily large number of cases and types of law.
My career began in the Berks County District Attorney's Office for more than eight years. Upon entering private practice, I have handled criminal matters and civil matters. I have represented clients in cases involving family law, employment and labor issues, banking, insurance, construction, real estate, zoning and land use, among many others. I have extensive appellate experience in the Pennsylvania and federal appeals courts. I have been specially appointed by the courts to serve in judicial roles. Most significantly, I have been appointed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to serve as a hearing officer in attorney disciplinary matters.
I have a master's of law degree specifically related to trying cases, and I have taught at the law school level. Additionally, I have been active in the community having served on the board of directors of Safe Berks, the Animal Rescue League, the Mental Health Association, Big Brothers-Big Sisters and the Sacred Heart Home and School Association. Each provided me the opportunity to support the community.
Finally, I am the only candidate who has been rated "AV Preeminent" by my peers. This national distinction is given to attorneys who are ranked at the highest level of professional excellence for their legal expertise, communication skills and ethical standards.
Response 2: Lewis Powell, a former associate justice of the United States Supreme Court said, "Equal justice under law is not merely a caption on the facade of the Supreme Court building; it is perhaps the most inspiring ideal of our society. It is one of the ends for which our entire legal system exists ... it is fundamental that justice should be the same, in substance and availability, without regard to economic status." He also observed, the guarantee of equal protection cannot mean one thing when applied to one individual and something else when applied to another.
Judges have both the professional and moral duty to ensure that justice exists for all and that everyone has access to the courts. In order to remove obstacles to justice, we must take all reasonable steps to make sure that everyone has a fair opportunity to be heard in the courts of law.
Every day our judges are charged with the difficult duty of making sense of the senseless, adding meaning to the meaningless, and providing balance to the unbalanced. This duty cannot be fulfilled unless everyone has equal access to the courts. In our government, judges are not lawmakers or policymakers. Nor should they be. Their job is to apply the law. In order to do that, they must make certain the courts are open to everyone who needs them. Failing to do so would not only be an obstacle to justice, it would be justice denied.
Kurt Geishauser, 51, Exeter Township.
Background: Geishauser primarily practices criminal defense law. He began his legal career as a law clerk for Berks County Judge Stephen B. Lieberman before going into private practice. Ultimately, he formed a practice with his father-in-law, the late Emmanuel Dimitriou, and his wife, Eleni Dimitriou Geishauser, now a county judge.
Response 1: I have been blessed with the education, experience, work ethic and temperament to serve Berks County as a jurist.
I received a degree in accounting from St. Francis University, a juris doctorate from The Dickinson School of Law and studied taxation for two years at the Villanova School of Law. I met my wife, Eleni, in law school and we were married in our last year. We celebrated our 27th anniversary this year and have been blessed with six children.
I started my career as an intern for federal bankruptcy Judge Thomas Twardowski. Next, I clerked for the Honorable Stephen B. Lieberman, where I stayed for two years before joining the firm of Mogel, Speidel, Bobb and Kershner, where I worked primarily in civil litigation. Ultimately, I chose to join my wife and father-in-law in what became Dimitriou & Geishauser.
I have primarily focused on criminal defense work since that time, handling state and federal felony and misdemeanor matters as well as criminal homicide cases. However, I have also handled cases in a variety of areas including civil law, family law and even adverse possession and eminent domain. I have litigated at every level of court in Pennsylvania, including the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, Superior Court and Supreme Court. I have also practiced extensively before the federal district courts, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and was sworn in as a member of the Supreme Court Bar in 2019.
Response 2: Economic disparity and political bias.
My father-in-law, business partner and mentor was the first public defender in Pennsylvania. He set the bar very high for all those tasked with representing indigent defendants ever since. He was a zealous advocate for all. Unfortunately, across the state, today's public defenders offices are underfunded and overworked. But beyond that, in the civil arena, where the 6th Amendment does not apply, litigants on both sides can easily find themselves in the untenable position of facing insurmountable legal fees to justify legitimate causes and thus it becomes a question of economics.
Political bias has recently become an issue with judges legislating from the bench. This is something that would never happen with me. If elected I will apply the law to the facts, I will uphold the constitution and I will treat everyone with dignity and respect.
Catherine Nadirov, 41, Wernersville.
Background: Nadirov has been primarily practicing family and criminal defense law as a partner of the Law Offices of Kline & Nadirov for the last seven years. She previously served as a Berks County assistant district attorney from 2004 to 2013 where she specialized in juvenile cases.
Response 1: I grew up in Berks County. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law I returned and started my family and legal career here. I am especially dedicated to the future generations of Berks County and will make the people of Berks my priority.
I spent nine years as a prosecutor in the Berks County District Attorney's Office. There, I took on specialized cases in juvenile justice, child abuse and arson. In so doing I received specialized education including training to be a forensic interviewer. A forensic interviewer is educated in how to speak to child victims of crimes.
I continue to use this training in my private practice and as a court appointed guardian ad litem; an expert qualified by the court to render opinions regarding the best interest of children in custody, dependency, civil, delinquency and criminal cases. I currently practice primarily in family and criminal law. My criminal law work particularly provides me with consistent trial and litigation practice.
Berks will be losing two judges who have dedicated the recent past years of their terms to family law. Their vacancy will be deeply felt by the Berks community. My temperament, disposition, experience and dedication make me the best candidate to fill this vacancy. I promise to bring to the bench well-reasoned and ethical decisions through fairness, respect, caring and honesty.
Response 2: I believe the greatest obstacles to justice today are the lack of access to the court system and the perceived inability to be heard.
Our community needs to trust that someone will listen genuinely, caringly and respectfully. It is up to the people who work within the justice system, and for our judges to truly hear the voice of the public.
Berks County is making great strides to ensure all litigants have fair and equal access to the courts. Berks has different agencies which work to provide for less fortunate citizens. For example, MidPenn Legal Services and the Berks County Bar Association have programs for low-income residents to get free or reduced legal services. Berks also has agencies to help women and men in crisis, such as Safe Berks. Safe Berks not only helps people get back on their feet, but in certain cases aids in legal matters.
Berks is truly continuously working towards helping its community and the court shares in those efforts. The court, especially in recent years, has continued to expand drug treatment court, mental health court and veterans court. As a judge I will welcome litigants to my courtroom, provide transparency in my courtroom and treat everyone with respect, care, honesty and fairness. I am a down-to-earth candidate who feels passionately about this community. I believe in hard work and will continue to help Berks progress.