Hirz unopposed in race for DA as 3 candidates vie for 1 Erie County judgeship
Erie County voters this year will elect a district attorney and a Common Pleas Court judge, two of the highest-profile positions at the county courthouse.
One of the races has all but been decided already.
The other race is likely to extend past the May 16 municipal primary and be decided in the Nov. 7 municipal election.
In the district attorney's race, the incumbent, Elizabeth Hirz, a Republican, is the only candidate running for the job of the county's top prosecutor.
She was named to the post two years ago and will run unopposed for an elected term barring the unlikely scenario of another candidate mounting a successful write-in campaign.
Hirz takes over:As Daneri resigns as DA, his successor will be the first woman in that role in Erie County
The lack of competition is part of a trend. The last time a district attorney's race was contested in Erie County was 24 years ago, in 1999.
One open judicial seat, three candidates
The race for Erie County Common Pleas Court judge is more populated than the district attorney's race, but not by much. Three candidates are running for the only open seat on the nine-member Erie County bench.
All three judicial candidates have all cross-filed as Republicans and Democrats, according to their nominating petitions submitted by the March 7 deadline.
A victor could emerge on May 16 if one of the three locks up nominations on both the Republican and Democratic ballots. Otherwise the top vote-getter on each ballot in the primary will face off in November.
The three candidates are Peter Sala, 54, of Erie, a registered Democrat; Erik Mikovch, 53, of Elk Creek Township, a registered Republican; and Leigh Ann Orton, 51, of North East, a registered Republican.
They are seeking election to a 10-year term to fill the opening on the county bench created by the retirement of Erie County Judge Stephanie Domitrovich on May 3, 2022. The Erie County court system has been using retired judges to help hear cases until a new judge is elected and seated.
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Common Pleas Court judges in Pennsylvania are state employees who are first elected and then retained to subsequent 10-year terms. The job pays $212,495 a year — an amount set by state law — and has a mandatory retirement age of 75. Retired judges can work as senior judges on an as-needed basis at a rate of $659 a day.
Erie County last elected a Common Pleas Court judge in 2021. Marshall Piccinni, a former federal prosecutor, ran unopposed when he was elected to the post that then-Gov. Tom Wolf had appointed him to in 2019. The seat became vacant with the retirement of Judge William R. Cunningham.
The last contested races for Erie County Common Pleas Court judge occurred in 2021. David Ridge and Erin Connelly Marucci each won an open seat.
A total of five candidates ran for the two open seats in 2021. One of them was Sala, one of the three candidates in the race for the one open seat this year. The two seats became open in 2021 with the retirement of Judge John Garhart in 2018 and the death of Judge Robert A. Sambroak Jr. in March 2017.
As DA, Hirz follows Daneri, who resigned
Hirz, the district attorney, is the first woman to hold the post in Erie County. She took over the job when then-District Attorney Jack Daneri retired in December 2021 with two years left in his four-year term. Daneri was named to the Pennsylvania Parole Board in June.
New job:Former Erie County DA Daneri has a new job. He's working with offenders in different way
Hirz was Daneri's first assistant district attorney. Pennsylvania law holds that the first assistant district attorney becomes district attorney when the district attorney resigns, a situation that allowed Daneri to pick Hirz as his successor.
Hirz, 51, of Fairview, is seeking a full four-year term in the 2023 election. Salaries for district attorneys in Pennsylvania are set by law at $1,000 less than that of a Common Pleas Court judge — an amount that is $211,495 a year as of Jan. 1.
Daneri also started his career as district attorney with an unelected term. He was named to the job in 2009, following the death of Brad Foulk, who was first elected district attorney in 1999. That was the same year Erie County last had a contested race for district attorney. Foulk, a Republican, defeated his friend and fellow prosecutor James K. Vogel, a Democrat.
Daneri, 63, a Republican, was unopposed when he ran for a full term as district attorney in 2011 and when he was reelected in 2015 and 2019.
Top prosecutors:In historic moment, first women take office to serve as DAs in Erie, Crawford counties
Hirz is connected to Daneri and his Foulk, his predecessor. Foulk hired Hirz as an assistant district attorney in 2012, and she worked alongside Daneri, who was Foulk's chief deputy district attorney. Hirz was Foulk's deputy district attorney for a time.
Daneri made Hirz his first assistant district attorney in 2013.
"Very quickly into my career, I recognized the important truth: That this work is not about me," Hirz said in announcing her candidacy on Feb. 9. "It is about the people I serve. My role is to serve the public interest in order to protect the safety and integrity of our communities and its members.
"And what I have learned and what I truly believe is that this does not happen from sitting behind my desk. My job is to go out, show up and to serve."
DA also running for full term in Crawford County
Hirz became Erie County district attorney at the same time Crawford County, Erie County's neighbor to the south, also had a woman become district attorney for the first time.
Paula DiGiacomo took the job in Crawford County two years ago after the incumbent district attorney, Francis Schultz, was elected a judge on the Crawford County Court of Common Pleas. DiGiacomo was Schultz's first assistant district attorney.
DiGiacomo, 54, a Republican, is running for a full four-year term this year. Like Hirz, she is unopposed on the ballot.
Contact Ed Palattella at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNpalattella.
Erie County's judges
Common Pleas Court judges are first elected to 10-year-terms and then run for retention for subsequent 10-year terms.
Joseph M. Walsh III, elected in 2015; president judge since January 2021
Elizabeth K. Kelly, elected in 1999
John J. Trucilla, elected in 2001
Daniel Brabender, elected in 2009
John J. Mead, elected in 2015
Erin Connelly Marucci, elected in 2019
David Ridge, elected in 2019
Marshall Piccinini, elected in 2021. He was appointed by then Gov. Tom Wolf in 2019 to fill the seat that went on the ballot two years later.
Vacant seat up for election this year
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Hirz unopposed for DA as 3 candidates run for Erie County judge