CLARION – The three candidates for Clarion County Court of Common Pleas Judge last week took the floor to explain their qualifications for election to the bench.
Clarion County District Attorney Mark Aaron, local attorney Sara Seidle-Patton and Clarion County Chief Public Defender Erich Spessard were three of the nine candidates who addressed dozens of Clarion County business professionals, elected officials and state representatives who gathered for the annual Legislative Spring Breakfast hosted by the Clarion Area Chamber of Business & Industry on Friday, April 12.
Each candidate was given five minutes to introduce themselves and discuss their qualifications.
In his opening remarks, Aaron said that he has been part of the Clarion County justice system for 25 years, and is “pro-life and a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment.”
Describing his qualifications, Aaron said that he has been district attorney for 20 years, during which time he spearheaded the county’s drug task force, prosecuted drug cases that brought fentanyl dealers from Cleveland, Ohio and Pittsburgh to trial in Clarion County and worked with Clarion County Chief Detective William Peck IV to shut down “one of the biggest pill mills” operating in Clarion.
Aaron also said that after the ACLU designated Clarion County a sanctuary county, he worked to rewrite the policies at the county jail so that Clarion County is no longer a designated sanctuary county
“This is my home, and I want to ensure the system works for the people,” he said.
He went on the pledge to not accept campaign donations or contributions from anyone.
“My campaign will be entirely self-funded through the Primary [Election],” Aaron noted.
If elected as judge, Aaron said that he would ensure that the court system will “serve justice and taxpayers, not the attorneys’ schedules; work for the implementation of the parenting coordination rule; revamp probation supervision; streamline the shipment of prisoners to state prisons; and modernize the courtroom.
“I do not take this decision [to run for judge] lightly,” Aaron said. “Clarion County has trusted me five times before to be district attorney. I respectfully ask for your trust and your vote in this election.”
Seidle-Patton was born and raised in Clarion and said that she and her husband both have strong family connections in the area.
After graduating from Duquesne Law School, Seidle-Patton said she and her husband decided to return to Clarion County to start their careers and raise a family.
“It’s that commitment and decision to return to Clarion County that has compelled me to want to seek the position of Clarion County Judge,” she explained.
Seidle-Patton served as Clarion County Assistant District Attorney for two years, during which time she said she gained “a very strong foundation in trial practice.”
“That practice in the district attorney’s office provided a very solid foundation for me to move into my eventual private practice,” Seidle-Patton said, noting that she opened her first office in New Bethlehem in 2006 followed by a second office in Clarion in 2008.
In the private realm, Seidle-Patton said she has focused on family law, estate planning and administration, and advising local businesses.
“It’s the problem-solving aspect of the practice of law that I bring to the court system,” she said. Seidle-Patton said she currently serves as the Clarion County Juvenile Public Defender and as a hearing officer for Domestic Relations. She also is a court-appointed master of divorce and real estate cases.
Her practice has also enabled her to litigate cases in several counties across Pennsylvania, she said.
“As an attorney, I have a very broad base of experience, and I think it’s going to lend itself very well to running our judicial system in Clarion County,” Seidle-Patton said. “My experience as an attorney isn’t limited to one single area of the law. I’ve had the opportunity to practice in many different facets in our legal system.”
The final judicial candidate to address the crowd was Spessard, who moved to the area as a student attending Clarion University.
Following graduation, Spessard entered law school at William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. After law school, he said he served a short stint in Pittsburgh, only to return to Clarion in 2013 to serve as public defender.
“[Clarion] is one of the best communities I’ve ever lived in; a place where people treat you with respect, kindness and genuine good feelings,” Spessard said of his decision to return to Clarion. “I knew this was the place I wanted to be and to settle down and raise a family.”
According to Spessard, an obvious trait of any judge is to be impartial, which he said is also a trait of his current position of public defender.
“I don’t have a choice on the cases that come before me, [or] the people who walk into my office,” Spessard said, noting that no matter what a person’s last name is or where they come from they get served. “If they qualify they get help. Period.”
He went on to say that a judge has to be empathetic and recognize the kinds of situations people find themselves in. These are also important skills that he has honed through his service on the Drug and Alcohol Court team and the Behavioral Health Court team.
“[These are] two programs specifically designed to help individuals suffering through addiction or issues with mental health that have constantly dragged them into the criminal justice program,” Spessard said.
Candidates for Clarion County Commissioner and District Attorney will be highlighted in the coming weeks. The Primary Election will be held on Tuesday, May 21.