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State’s appellate courts drawing lots of interest

Democratic and Republican state committees have meetings coming up soon.

HARRISBURG — A pair of open seats on Pennsylvania’s statewide appellate courts is attracting interest from an evolving list of prospective candidates that totaled 11 as of Thursday, as the major parties prepare to hand out their politically precious endorsements.

Seven men and four women — all lawyers or judges — are vying to fill one seat each on the Superior and Commonwealth courts.

Shaping up already as showdowns are the battle between Allegheny County judges Robert J. Colville and David N. Wecht for the Democratic nomination for Superior Court and the Republican nomination clash between incumbent Commonwealth Court Judge Johnny Butler of Philadelphia and New Hope labor lawyer Anne E. Covey.

Colville was nominated for one of three open seats on Superior Court in 2009, only to lose in a photo finish that triggered the state’s automatic re-count law for the first time, while Wecht is the son of high-profile forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht and an eight-year veteran of the county bench. Both were rated "highly recommended" by the state bar’s Judicial Evaluation Commission.

Neither man would say whether he would compete in the primary if the party endorses his opponent.

Butler, who also received the bar panel’s top rating, is a former state labor secretary who was appointed to the court by then-Gov. Ed Rendell in 2008 to complete the term of his predecessor.

But some GOP leaders have expressed concern that Butler, if elected, would be forced step down midway through his 10-year term when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. And GOP officials point to the lopsided support that Covey has received from the regional GOP caucuses as evidence of her strength, party officials say. She received a rating of "recommended" from the bar panel.

Technically, no one is a candidate yet. People seeking to run in the May 17 primary cannot begin circulating nominating petitions until Feb. 15. They have until March 8 to collect the requisite 1,000 voter signatures, including at least 100 from each of at least five counties.

But speculation is nonetheless building, as would-be candidates join — and sometimes flee — the field.

On Saturday, the Democratic State Committee meets in Hershey to consider endorsing candidates. On Feb. 12, the Republican State Committee plans to convene in Harrisburg for the same purpose.

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