May 4—An O'Hara teacher seeking the Lower Valley magistrate office said his classroom experience positions him well to find practical solutions.
Dave Turner, an attorney-turned-educator, said his teaching background might be even more useful than his experience in the courtroom.
"Through education, I've gotten used to finding solutions for young men and women and their families, regardless of their background," he said. "The goal is always to steer folks toward personal improvement."
Turner thinks that teaching offers a glimpse into people like no other profession.
"I see the humanity in every student I teach, regardless of their background," he said. "I am focused on their improvement and growth. So when I follow through and enforce consequences, I do so always with the ultimate goal that the person suffering consequences will ultimately change for the better."
A Fox Chapel native and Shady Side Academy graduate, Turner attended the University of Pittsburgh as an undergraduate and law student. He earned a master's degree in education from Slippery Rock University.
After working as an attorney in law firms in downtown Pittsburgh, Turner maintains a small practice today.
"I've handled a wide range of litigation matters, which required me to be in court throughout Pennsylvania regularly," Turner said. "In law firm practice, my clients were large national companies, as well as small businesses and individuals.
"I have also provided free legal representation to victims of abuse and to parents unable to hire a lawyer to help resolve child custody disputes."
After starting a family, Turner pursued a second calling: teaching.
He has taught at the Fox Chapel Area High School and substituted throughout the district.
Turner currently works for Pittsburgh Public Schools, teaching English at Perry and Carrick high schools.
"As much as I enjoy getting students engaged in literature and writing, I feel really privileged to have helped grow children and young adults socially and emotionally," he said. "It's been really eye-opening to see how many students, even in our own district with its resources, have significant social and developmental hurdles.
"Sometimes teachers, administrators and even parents need help modifying behaviors. I think I can be really impactful in this role."
Turner said it is his role as an educator that spurred him to seek the magisterial judge position.
"I'm not a politician," he said. "I've never run for anything in my life and never worked for a politician.
"I just saw the potential that my background in education and law can have in a court, particularly at the local level, where I can work more hands-on with our residents who need some assistance."
"I've experienced enough in education to know that people have the capability to change," he said. "Sometimes a little interest and support from an authority can go a long way toward achieving that change. While there are no perfect solutions, I'm an optimist who wants to use every tool at my disposal to try to help someone. I tend not to give up on people."
Turner said he relishes his work with young people so much so that it cemented his decision to run for magistrate.
"I can be a real resource to our schools when dealing with students not showing up to school or demonstrating problem behaviors," he said. "If schools and parents want to think outside the box, that could involve me offering my informal assistance with families early. I can be another backstop to prevent issues from becoming police or court matters."
The district justice office in Sharpsburg hears cases that originate in the Fox Chapel Area School District communities. They include small claims, traffic violations and some felonies.
The office was most recently held by Elissa Lang, who retired last year. Senior judges have been filling the interim role on a rotating basis.
District magistrates are elected for six-year terms.
Turner said he envisions the magisterial district court as an opportunity to work with people who have suffered consequences in court.
"Inside the courtroom, I will follow the law, work hard to understand the arguments of the people coming to court and do my best to reach a fair result," he said.
"I have a good sense of what parties and other lawyers want from a judge — fairness, respectfulness and serious consideration of the arguments they are making.
"These are things I feel I can bring to the district court."
Outside the courtroom, Turner wants to put his experience to work for the district and help residents who have had bad outcomes in court.
"I want to develop personalized plans — and follow up on them — to prevent our neighbors experiencing troubles from needing a second appearance in court," he said.
Turner called it an innovative vision that would allow him to use the skills he's garnered in law and education to directly impact residents in need.
He said he wants to spend his time outside the courtroom working on community relations.
"I'd like to develop and sponsor a program with schools for age-appropriate education regarding law enforcement and criminal justice," he said.
"It would be a long-term investment in creating law enforcement interactions that are as safe as possible for our residents, our police and our other first responders."
Turner touted his roots in the Lower Valley. A lifelong resident of the district, he volunteered 15 years with his father, Woody, and brother, Jim, at the Fox Chapel Volunteer Fire Department. He and his wife have three children who attend Kerr Elementary School.
He has been a youth soccer coach and is a member of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church.
Turner said that campaigning for local office has demonstrated to him that people are not aware of the role of the district magistrate.
"Part of my job will just be regularly educating children and adults about the position, about the law and about the outcomes that can result from coming into the court," he said.
Turner said he is eager to serve the residents of his community.
"I have taught children from every corner of our neighborhoods and worked with many of their parents," he said. "When I was a firefighter, although my department was based in Fox Chapel, all our departments partner with one another. I've responded to emergencies in every one of our neighborhoods. I've always lived here and been a servant to our community, and it would be a real privilege to continue that service as district magistrate."
Tawnya Panizzi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tawnya at 724-226-7726, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .