Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Judicial Candidates Vie for Votes at Neighborhood Meeting

By Christina Georgiou

 The five candidates running for the magisterial district judge position left vacant by Gay Elwell's sudden death last December got a chance to introduce themselves to the public at a "Meet the Candidates" event held during the College Hill Neighborhood Association's meeting last evening. About 40 people attended the event.

Three of the candidates are cross-filed and are on both the Democrat and Republican tickets for the May 21 primary: Tony Bassil, Antonia Grifo, and Sharbel Koorie.

Tim Prendergast intended to run on both tickets, but fell short of the 100 signatures necessary for his inclusion on the Republican side of the ballot by one after it came to light that on signator had signed twice and another was from outside the voting district, he said, noting that he believes he could have contested the situation and successfully run on both tickets, but decided against the move.

Candidate Lance Wheeler only filed on the Democratic ticket because he's a loyal Democrat, he said.

All five were given five minutes each to speak uninterrupted in front of the audience. A chance for questions from the crowd was offered at the conclusion, though few were offered. Those assembled seemed to prefer to chat privately with the candidates afterwards, which was also a planned part of the event.

Tony Bassil
Each of the five stressed their connections with the community, particularly the area covered by Magisterial District 03-2-05, which includes Easton's Downtown and College Hill neighborhoods, along with much of the West Ward. Most struggled to get in all they wished to say in the five minute allotted.

"Although no one can replace Gay (Elwell), someone must fill that office," said Bassil, speaking first.

Bassil noted his past experience in both the private and public sector, including his current position as Easton City Controller and ownership of the Carmelcorn Shop since 1996 with his wife Sia.

"With my corporate and public experience, I'm qualified to serve in this office," he said. "My goal is to futher my service to my community. I will be fair and an honest representative."

Antonia Grifo
Grifo, an attorney who runs a Downtown law practice with her husband Ron Shipman, stressed her legal experience, as well as multi-generational ties to the Easton community and a dedication to being non-partisan.

"I think people innately understand this is not a partisan race," Grifo added.

She noted she attended nursery school at the College Hill Presbyterian Church, where the CHNA meetings are held, and grew up on Paxinosa Avenue.

"My family came to the West Ward a hundred years ago. I truly know this town," Grifo said. "My first job here was as an assistant DA--I was on the 'Easton team'. I've pretty much dealt with every type of legal matter that can come before this court."

She also stressed her volunteer efforts.

"I think my community service is extremely important, not just on boards of directors, but more in hands on," Grifo said.

It is not required to be a lawyer or have experience with the legal system to be elected to the magistrate position, Grifo noted, "but why not raise the bar?"

She added, "This is the place where people see our judicial system. A judge makes a lot of decisions. Think about who you want to represent you."

Sharbel Koorie

Koorie, a code enforcement officer for the city, said his experience in that position makes him uniquely qualified to be a district magistrate.

"The magistrate is going to hear cases that represent what's happening in our community. The magistrate should be someone who can keep an open mind and listen to both sides," he said. "I am, of all the candidates, the only one who has a proven record of working in the community (in this capacity) day in and day out."

His West Ward residency, along with his zoning officer position, gives him a unique view of residents and their situations, Koorie said.

"I get to see a lot of homes in the city. We see these real things that happen," he said. "I think whoever's district judge...should have a clear idea of the people who live in it...and to resolve problems."

Tim Prendergast
 Prendergast also stressed his long-term ties to the community, noting he too grew up in Easton's College Hill neighborhood, and attended the church's nursery school, along with March Elementary school across the street.

"My ties to this community are deep. I have a great love for this community," he said. "I've walked a lot of miles in a lot of shoes."

Prenderagast, also a lawyer, said he's represented clients in all sorts of cases, having worked in 17 counties before coming back to Easton, but, "in the long run, most of my time is spent as an Easton public defender."

He's further gotten to know the community he grew up in recently too, he said.

"In the past two years, I've lost 200 pounds. And I did it by walking the streets of this city," Prendergast said. "My commitment to this community is deep. I think this is a position (in which) I can both serve my profession and serve my city."

The district judge requires someone who is "fair, respectful, understanding of the law, and compassionate" Prendergast said. "And I hope to be able to do that with a smile."

Lance Wheeler

Lance Wheeler, currently a Northampton County constable who has also moonlighted in the security field, notably at Lafayette College, said his experience transporting prisoners and evicting tenants gives him a unique perspective on the magisterial justice position.

"I'm familar with the courts as I work with them every day," he said. "There is no substitute for justice."

As a West Ward resident, he also understands neighborhood issues, he said.

"I'm a big supporter of block watch. If there's someone in my neighborhood that shouldn't be (there), I'll deal with it."

He added, "This is a very important job."

All five candidates said they plan to continue meeting with community members in anticipation of the primary election, to be held on Tuesday, May 21.

Updated at 12:18 p.m. to correct a detail about Antonia Grifo's legal practice and to add links to candidates' election announcement articles.

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