Recently, the Bucks County Bar Association (“BCBA”), an organization of attorneys dedicated to promoting and advancing the legal system and justice throughout Bucks County, conducted a judicial plebiscite to aid in the evaluation of ten attorneys who announced their candidacy for three vacancies on the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas, as well as to evaluate four (4) current Judges of the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas who are running for retention.   The plebiscite was overseen and administered by the BCBA Merit Selection Committee (“Committee”), with the able assistance of BCBA Executive Director Greg Nardi and the BCBA staff.

The Committee itself was Chaired by two BCBA Past Presidents and was comprised of the BCBA Executive Committee and all Section, Committee and Division Chairs of the BCBA who were not otherwise actively involved in the campaign of any judicial candidate.  Once established, the Committee followed a process that was similar, if not identical, to past plebiscites, most recently done in 2007 and 2009.   The major differences with the current process for judicial candidates, as compared to past plebiscites, were the greater number of candidates (10) and the usage of the BCBA website to provide real-time information, and increase transparency, to aid BCBA members in their evaluations, as well as provide information access to interested members of the public.

The long-standing “Guidelines” for the Merit Selection of Judges by the BCBA includes the “stated purpose,” which is “…to promote “justice and the administration thereof.”   The Committee’s “’purpose” is “to provide a forum within which the membership of the Association can evaluate potential candidates for judicial office and vote on their qualifications.”   The Committee is further charged with the duty of “providing information to the members of the Association and to the public to assist in evaluating candidates for judge, including the following qualities (not listed in order of priority):

  1. Integrity
  2. Judicial Disposition and Temperament
  3. Litigation Experience, Competency, Knowledge
  4. Intelligence, Education
  5. Efficiency, Industriousness
  6. Practical Experience
  7. Community Involvement and Service
  8. Common Sense

The Committee is also charged with the duty of educating the public regarding the merit selection process used by the Association.”

Adhering to these guidelines, the Committee, in mid- to late-January, embarked on an ambitious process to complete the plebiscite in a fair, objective, and timely manner.  Initially, eight announced judicial candidates were contacted, all of whom completed identical questionnaires, submitted to BCBA by February 1, and uploaded to the BCBA website, for member and public review and analysis.  Within days, two more candidates were announced, and their questionnaires were completed and also uploaded.  Simultaneously with the receipt of information from the initial eight announced candidates, ballots and voter eligibility paperwork was sent to Association Members in good standing.   The deadline for submission of completed ballots to the Committee was February 19.   Supplemental ballots for the two additional candidates were also sent out, also with a stated February 19 submission deadline.

Said ballots provided four categories for BCBA Members to evaluate each candidate: “Highly Recommended,” “Recommended,” “Not Recommended,” and “No Opinion.”

A “judicial interview” was also held on February 13 (rescheduled from February 12 due to inclement weather), where all ten candidates appeared at the BCBA and were asked identical questions to an audience of both BCBA members and the general public.   Again, this process was similar to past plebiscite judicial interview sessions, the only significant difference being the greater number of participants than in previous years and the ability of the BCBA to “stream” the event live on its Facebook page.

Then, on February 21, six members of the Committee (three male and three female) tabulated the returned ballots, insuring their legitimacy (i.e., verifying membership “in good standing”) and carefully reviewing all ballots to compute the final results.  Those results were then released the following day (February 22) to the BCBA membership and are now being provided below to the general public by way of this publication.  Said results are also available for review on the BCBA website at www.bucksbar.org.

It is the Committee’s goal and hope that the below results will be informative and of benefit to all members of the BCBA and the public in this important election, and that all those who review these results can be assured of the fairness, integrity and transparency of the Committee, the plebiscite process and the results of this evaluation.

2019 BCBA Plebiscite Results:

731 members of the Bar Association received a plebiscite or ballot with the names of all the judicial candidates. 357 ballots were tabulated.

The results of the Judicial Plebiscite, which evaluated the ten judicial candidates, have been released and are as follows:

Candidate Highly Recommend Recommend Not Recommended No Opinion
Denise Bowman 104 92 21 129
Grace Deon 193 88 15 50
Gary Gambardella 62 103 93 92
Charissa Liller 26 45 165 109
Dianne Magee 148 100 29 67
Allen Toadvine 95 92 26 121
Jessica VanderKam 35 60 121 127
Jordan Yeager 150 77 29 93
Dawn DiDonato-Burke 7 6 58 142
Chris Serpico 93 66 17 43

* Please note, the plebiscite ballot for Dawn DiDonato-Burke and Chris Serpico was sent out ten days after the initial plebiscite separately. Of which 219 ballots were tabulated.

Additionally, the members of the Bucks County Bar Association were asked to provide their opinions if the following Judges should be retained in office as a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County.  Here are the results:

Candidate Endorsed Not Endorsed No Opinion
Hon. Robert Baldi 318 16 18
Hon. Wallace Bateman 320 4 33
Hon. Gary Gilman 310 11 24
Hon. Alan Rubenstein 306 17 23