The race for Democratic and Republican ballot slots for the Pittston district judge seat is coming down the home stretch.
Eight candidates are running, and all but two are cross-filed on both tickets.
Candidates who cross-filed are Arthur Bobbouine of Pittston, Alexandra “Sciandra” Kokura of Dupont, Girard “Jerry” Mecadon of Jenkins Township, Len Sanguedolce of Pittston, Mark Singer of Pittston and James O’Brien of Pittston. Jeffrey C. Kulick of Hughestown and Quiana Murphy Lehman of Dupont will appear only on the Democratic ballot.
The candidate who receives the most votes in each party will square off in the Nov. 5 general election.
The state Supreme Court recently approved vast Pittston and Jenkins townships and small borough of Yatesville being added to the magisterial district that currently represents Pittston, Dupont, Duryea and Hughestown. Realignment of the district takes effect on June 1.
The Pittston seat is currently occupied on an interim basis by Senior District Judge Andrew Barilla Jr., formerly the longtime Swoyersville judge. He was appointed to the seat after Fred Pierantoni became a county judge.
One early favorite for the district judge’s seat was former Luzerne County District Attorney Jackie Musto Carroll of Yatesville, but she has decided not to run.
According to campaign finance reports filed with the Luzerne County Election Office for the latest reporting period ending on May 6, Kokura was the biggest money raiser and the biggest spender, followed by Mecadon and Singer. Money collected come from candidates themselves, their families and personal campaign donations.
Kokura collected $61,940 and spent $34,719, leaving a balance of $27,200. The campaign listed $33,900 in unpaid debt.
Mecadon has collected $35,261 and spent $31,583, leaving a balance of $4,677. The campaign has $15,000 in unpaid debt.
Singer’s committee collected $26,045 in donations and spent $25,862, leaving a balance of $242. The unpaid debt is listed as $25,075.
O’Brien’s committee collected $6,985 and spent $5,901, leaving a balance of $1,083. The campaign has no debt.
Bobbouine collected $5,755 and spent $2,412, leaving a balance of $3,342. The campaign has no unpaid debt.
Lehman collected $2,375 and spent $1,888, leaving a balance of $486. The campaign has no unpaid debt.
Sanguedolce’s committee collected $1,700 and spent $2,782. The committee still has $1,883 in the account and has $770 in debt.
Kulick collected $1,514 and spent $1,255, leaving a balance of $258. The campaign has $200 in unpaid debt.
District judges are elected to six-year terms and are paid $86,639 a year.
The following are based on interviews with all of the candidates. Candidates are listed alphabetically.
Art Bobbouine, 37, of Pittston, said his law degree and his background as a criminal justice instructor makes him a good fit for the job.
“I’m able to make intelligent, common-sense decisions,” he said. “I have the background and the experience.”
He said drugs are a big problem in the district and he would participate in public-awareness programs to curb crime and drug use in the district.
“I’m willing to work with police and community members in crime-prevention programs,” he said. “We need to get the residents more involved.”
He said he would be understanding and fair when dealing with the public.
“At magistrate court, you’re the people’s judge,” he said. “If the people don’t understand what’s going on, it’s my job as a magisterial judge to help them understand.”
Bobbouine said he is unsure if he has to be certified by the Minor Judiciary Education Board because he as a law degree but is not a member of the state bar.
The board’s website says training is necessary if an elected judge is not a member of the state bar.
Bobbouine is a 1994 graduate of Pittston Area High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in history and political science from the University of Scranton. He graduated from Dickinson Law School in 2001. He then spent eight years in the Luzerne County Sheriff’s Office, rising to the post of chief deputy under Sheriff Barry Stankus. He then worked as a criminal justice instructor at the Municipal Police Officers Education and Training Commission at Luzerne County Community College and Fortis Institute in Forty Fort. He is currently the prothonotary and clerk of courts for Luzerne County appointed by the county manager.
He was elected to the Pittston City Home Rule Study Commission, serving as the treasurer and as a current member of the Transition Committee for the new form of government. He is also a certified notary public.
Bobbouine is married to the former Trish Sgarlat and they have two children, a son, Arthur Primo, 6, and daughter, Giovanna, 2.
Alexandra “Sciandra” Kokura, 30, of Dupont, said that as a special court master, she’s doing many of the duties a district judge performs.
“I’m currently presiding over cases, weighing evidence, making decisions, just like a magisterial district judge.”
She said now that the district is expanded, it is important a have a full-time district judge.
“I don’t operate a private law practice, and it’s important I’m not trying to balance both,” she said. “The community will be better served by having an accessible magistrate 24 hours a day. The taxpayers deserve a full-time magistrate. I’m willing and dedicated and excited to do it.”
She said she hopes to work with local groups to help identify repeat offenders in the community.
“I want crime-watch groups to understand that as a magistrate I know that I’m the first person that deals with crime in our community on a basic grassroots level, so I will be available to them,” she said. “I understand as an attorney how to use the bail process to keep the most violent offenders off the street for as long as possible.”
She also hopes to establish a truancy program at the local court level to work with schools to help ensure kids are attending school and help families deal with truancy.
After the Luzerne County corruption scandal, she volunteered to work on the Youth Aid Panel Program through the District Attorney’s Office.
Born and raised in Dupont, she graduated from Scranton Prep in 2000. She received a bachelor’s degree at Lehigh University and, after several years off, she received her law degree from Widner University School of Law in 2009. After college, she served as an assistant to former U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski in Washington, D.C. After law school, she served as law clerk to Lackawanna County Court of Common Please Judge Thomas J. Munley. She serves as court-appointed special master presiding over Family Court in Lackawanna County.
She is married to Nick Kravitz, formerly of Pittston. Her family has resided in Dupont for many generations.
“I understand the hard work it takes and I also understand how you give back to your community,” she said.
Jeffrey C. Kulick, 27, is youngest of the announced candidates.
“And a fresh face for the community is a good thing,” he said.
Kulick, of Hughestown, is affiliated with his older brother, John, in the Kulick Law Firm in Exeter. He serves as a solicitor for the Greater Pittston YMCA.
“I grew up in this area and worked hard my whole life,” he said. From his landscaping job when he was younger, to his law practice with his brother, he said he knows hard work.
“I feel I can do this job with the dignity and respect it requires,” he said.
“I have my experience both in and out of magisterial court,” he said. “And county court, too, family and criminal law. Everything from criminal disputes to civil issues.”
He has seen too many DUI cases.
“DUI’s are so preventable,” he said. “Programs that stress moderation and common sense are needed, but we really need to reach out to the people before they get behind the wheel drunk.”
He promised to be impartial and remain a full-time district judge.
“I”ll give everyone a fair chance,” he said. “You have to listen to everyone.”
Kulick grew up in Hughestown and graduated from Seton Catholic in 2003. He received a criminal law and justice degree from Penn State in 2007 and received his juris doctorate from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Michigan in 2010. He passed the bar exam in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He is in general practice, focusing on family and criminal law. He is not married.
Qiana Murphy Lehman, 37, said she has a strong concern for the spread of drugs and gang violence in the local community.
“They’re changing the scope of our communities,” she said. “We have a lot of small towns, and the criminals are using the smallness and peacefulness as assets.”
Lehman said she has criminal and civil experience. She has prosecuted cases for the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office and has civil law experience working at the law firm of Brady & Grabowski in Wilkes-Barre.
“I’m running because I have the qualifications and experience to to to do a good job,” She said. “I hope to serve the community well.”
She promises honesty, integrity and fairness.
“I offer a unique combination of legal experience, excellent legal education, and common sense,” she said. “I have practiced law for 10-plus years, but have not abandoned my common sense, which serves me as a community leader, wife and mother of two.”
She said she has the ability and good judgment to use bail to help protect the community.
“I have to ask myself, is this person a flight risk, does he have family,” she said. “Should there be nominal bail or ROR? Or should there be a high bail for serious crimes?”
Born and raised in Pittston Township, she graduated from Pittston Area High School in 1993. She received her undergraduate degrees in theater and political science from East Stroudsburg University. She received her law degree from the New School of Law in Boston in 2003. She was in private practice in Pittston for two years then joined the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office for three years. She was a member of the Brady & Grabowski Law Firm in Wilkes-Barre for the past six and a half years.
In 2003, she volunteered at the Barbara J. Hart Justice Center, a non-profit group associated with the Women’s Resource Center and offered legal services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Lehman resides in Dupont with her husband, David Lehman, and their two children, Calder, 6, and Covington Rose, 2.
“I am not a politician,” she said. “I don’t come from a political family and I will serve without any political strings.”
Girard “Jerry” Mecadon, 48, said Pittston’s district court is one of the busiest in Luzerne County, and that’s not including the addition the three new towns.
“It’s a busy office and it’s only going to get busier,” Mecadon said.
It’s a full-time job that Mecadon said he is fully prepared to handle.
“The public needs to have someone with experience who can deal with all of the the issues,” he said, including preliminary hearings, bail, truancy in school, municipal codes and landlord-tenant cases.
Mecadon decided to run because it’s an area of the law he has always been interested in.
“I feel I can do a public service,” he said. “I’ve always been involved with the community” He listed a number of organizations he belongs to, including the Lions, the Rotary, UNICO, the Knights of Columbus and the Holy Name Society of St. Joseph Marello.
Mecadon said his qualifications, his experience and his record are what sets him apart from other candidates.
“I’ve handled every type of case that comes before a magistrate,” he said. “And I’m ready to hit the ground running. I’ve been doing this for 22 years. I’m ready to handle it.”
Born in Pittston Township, he graduated from Seton Catholic High School in 1983. He earned a bachelor of science degree in business management from the University of Scranton in 1987 and his law degree from Widner University School of Law in Wilmington, Del., in 1990.
His first legal job was a clerk in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Scranton. He worked for a year in Philadelphia and returned home to private-practice work. He teamed with current County Court of Common Pleas Judge Mike Vough and subsequently has been in practice on his own. He is also an assistant public defender for the county and serves on the board of directors of Greater Pittston Chamber of Commerce.
He is married to the former Christa DeVizia and they reside in Jenkins Township.
“I really think you need to look at experience of all the candidates,” he said. “And you’ll see I stand out.”
James “Red” O’Brien, 44, said he has spent half of his life in public service.
Terms as mayor of Avoca, member of the Pittston Area School Board and the Luzerne County Recorder of Deeds make him ready to serve as the district judge for Pittston and the surrounding communities, he said.
“I’ve had a strong sense of duty and diligence my entire life,” he said. “I hope to protect the safety and security of the community.”
O’Brien is the only candidate who didn’t attend law school, but he said his life experience makes him uniquely qualified.
“I believe I can better relate to the issues facing neighborhood, facing seniors, facing families and facing our children,” he said.
He grew up as one of 10 children. “I believe growing up in such a big family opens your eyes to fully understand what life is about and to respect one another.”
He said he already took the state class required of any non-practicing lawyer to become a magisterial district judge. He said he took the class to learn more about the job.
“I was proactive to see if I was going to be able to handle it,” he said. He’ll take the test in June if he makes it past the primary election.
He said he’ll meet with community organizations, crime-watch groups and senior centers to let them know what’s happening in their communities.
Born and raised in Avoca, O’Brien is a 1986 graduate of Pittston Area High School. He studied business administration and information technology at LCCC and Marywood University, but he never received a degree.
He worked at FedEx for five years and owned O’Brien’s Pub and Grill in Avoca for seven years. He was mayor of Avoca for three years and was the Luzerne County Recorder of Deeds for four years until home rule did away with the elected position. He is currently unemployed and a “full-time father.”
He is married to the former Ann Snopkowski of Dupont and they have a son, Seamus, 18, and a daughter, Ella, 5. The family has lived in Pittston for the past 10 years.
“This job is all about using common sense,” he said. “I believe a have a tremendous amount of common sense.”
Len Sanguedolce, 34, has been on the front line of the Marcellus Shale natural gas boom, writing opinions for some of the major drillers in the region, including Chesapeake, Exxon and Chief.
But, he said, his experience in the law is extensive and his first few years in the legal profession were spent in front of district judges.
“I feel like I have the experience to do a good job,” he said. “Not just in education, but in life. I have an ability to be fair and independent.”
He considers drugs to be a serious problem in this area.
“Practically every crime we have around here could be traced to drugs,” he said. “We need to do more to stop the violence.”
He suggested rehabilitation programs are helpful and would encourage drug addicts who come before him to utilize them, especially younger defendants.
He said if elected he would conduct night court by request for people who work during the day. He said he would also close his private practice and become a full-time magistrate.
A lifelong resident of Greater Pittston, he graduated from Seton Catholic in 1997. He obtained a bachelor of science degree in economics from the University of Scranton and a law degree from Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law in 2006. He opened a private practice on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre from 2006 to 2010 and moved the practice to Pittston in 2011. While working for the gas companies, he said he mostly writes legal opinions before drilling is performed.
He is married to the former Jennifer Borget and they have two sons, Lenny, 3, and Nicholas, 6 months.
Mark Singer, 50, said he has seen it all.
From summary citations to capital murder cases, he has sat on both sides of the table and said his experience sets him apart in this judicial race.
“I’ve spent most of my professional life in a courtroom,” he said. “I have an extensive legal background. I’m wiser, more mature and can hit the ground running.”
Singer, of Hughestown, said he would offer night court for those employed during the day, primarily for summary offenses, neighbor disputes and minor civil matters.
He pledged he would be available 24-7 for local law enforcement in signing warrants and arraigning defendants, and he will give up his private legal practice to be a full-time magisterial judge.
Singer served 16 years on the Pittston Area School Board and led the board in the wake of the countywide corruption scandal.
“I was the face of the district after the scandals,” he said. “I said there was a dark cloud over the district and promised things would get better. And things got better. We got back into the business of education.”
Singer said he’s the only lawyer running who has defended and prosecuted capital cases.
“I’ve prepared my whole life for this position,” Singer said.
A 1980 graduate of Pittston Area High School, he earned a degree in history and political science from the University of Scranton in 1984. He graduated from the Dickinson School of Law in 1987. His legal career started in the Public Defenders Office in Lehigh County. He served as an ADA in the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office under Correale Stevens, Jerome Cohen and Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. He then went into private practice. He also served as solicitor to the Luzerne County Prothonotary, and taught criminal procedure and law at Luzerne County Community College. He also has served as first assistant liaison to the Lower Lackawanna/Upper Luzerne County Drug Task Force.
He is married to the former Ann (Heidi Lee) Baldyga-Surwilla, formerly of Kingston. They have one daughter, Anjelica Nicola, 13, a student at Pittston Area Middle School.
He said he hopes to uphold the standards of past Pittston district judges Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge Fred Pierantoni and Senior Judge Joseph Augello.
“I feel it’s my time to run, and hopefully I have the support of the people.”