LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — Weeks before Pennsylvania’s primary election on May 16, a Midstate judge is asking judicial candidates not to answer a questionnaire from a group concerned with bail reform.
The Lancaster County Bail Coalition sent a survey in April to candidates for Magisterial District Judge seats. MDJs control setting bail in criminal cases. However, the county’s president judge said answering the survey could be unethical.
Thirteen of Lancaster County’s 19 MDJ seats are on the ballot this year. Candidates for those seats got the survey from the Bail Coalition in April.
“The voters are deciding who’s going to be that first line of judicial contact,” said Jason Perkowski from the Bail Coalition.
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It asked candidates to rate their agreement with policies the bail coalition supports, like less restrictive options than cash bail, and making sure people are represented by an attorney or public defender.
“We wanted the citizens to have that information in front of them before they voted,” Perkowski said.
However, the county’s President Judge David Ashworth told candidates not to respond, saying it could violate the Rules Governing Standards of Conduct of Magisterial District Judges.
“He didn’t believe that the judges would be able to answer the questions without putting themselves into a compromised position,” Perkowski said.
In an email to the coalition, Ashworth noted judges are not supposed to make public statements or pledges that could affect their ability to impartially review cases. He also said some policies in the survey are already in place, saying, “The least restrictive methods of supervision are always considered.”
The bail coalition disagrees the survey would violate any rules. The coalition said the rules allow judges to make campaign promises, and candidates can answer questions — as long as they promise to keep an open mind and stay impartial if elected.
The bail coalition said that is all they want: answers.
“None of the questions that we wrote were meant to trap a judge. We had an honest desire to get their perspective on these core issues,” Perkowski said.
Perkowski said the bail coalition has been in touch with Judge Ashworth since the initial email, and he has said he would be willing to meet with them.