District Judge Candidates Discuss the Issues
Sitting judge Patricia Zaffarano and challenger Michael Paston answer questions on key issues, including night court and courtroom technology.
Patch has now posted bios of all the candidates for the Upper Dublin Board of Commissioners, Upper Dublin School Board and District Justice. Leading up to election day, Patch will now run pieces in which candidates are asked questions on key issues, for the reader to compare side by side.
It should be noted that candidates were asked questions separately, with no knowledge of how the other candidate(s) answered.
- Incumbent Patricia Zaffarano, in her fourth six-year term. Click for full bio.
- Challenger Michael Paston. Click for full bio.
About the office:
- According to the Montgomery County website, district court maintains “jurisdiction over criminal preliminary arraignments and preliminary hearings; summary criminal offenses; traffic offenses; municipal code violations; landlord/tenant suits; and civil claims where damages do not exceed $12,000.”
On the issues:
Upper Dublin Patch to Michael Paston: You’ve previously suggested holding night court, so that no one has to miss any work. Your opponent has said that she tried that 23 years ago and found it didn’t work. Would you still bring back night court?
Michael Paston: If something did not work in 1988 you do not give up forever. Our community has changed in the last quarter century and regular business hours are not convenient for everyone. Her response that “twenty-three years ago we tried that and found it wasn’t really successful” is a great example of why we need change. I will operate a court that is convenient for the Ambler/Upper Dublin residents.
Upper Dublin Patch to Patricia Zaffarano: You’ve previously said that you are not interested in holding night court, something your opponent has said he will consider. Is this still your position, and can you explain why or why not?
The district court is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. consistent with other district courts and the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. We hold all of our hearings during those hours. When scheduling we must take into account the staffing and security needs of the office along with the schedules of the plaintiffs, defendants, their witnesses, their attorneys and the police officers. We have found that the system we use is effective, productive and cost-saving. When possible, we do try to make accommodations for those who truly need it.
Most importantly, my goal is to ensure that every person who wants a hearing receives one and we believe we are successful in doing that.
Upper Dublin Patch to Patricia Zaffarano: Your opponent has said that he thinks the court could use more technology, including the addition of an answering system on the court’s phone lines and allowing individuals to use e-mail to contact the court. What are your thoughts on these ideas?
The local district judge does not control the technology for the Court. All of the technology, including the computers and software and the phone system are provided to us by the State and the County. On October 17th, each of the district courts in Montgomery County “went live” with the most up-to-date programming the State and County have to offer. Our system is now Windows-based which we hope will streamline some of our procedures and it includes the feature of on-line payments.
With respect to e-mail, the police and attorneys and some members of the public do take the opportunity to use it. However, my staff and I have found the public prefers speaking to a “live voice." Most people who use the court have many questions and concerns and they want them addressed fully and completely and my staff takes the time to do that. The personal touch still has a place in this world.
Upper Dublin Patch to Michael Paston: You’ve said that you think the court could use more technology, namely a phone answering system and the use of e-mail for official court contact. Your opponent has said that the county controls court technology. Is this still something you’d consider, and how would you go about implementing it?
I would start with the basics such as an outgoing message answering machine that gives directions to the court, how you request a new court date, etc. The same questions that are answered twenty times a day can available to callers thus freeing up the time of office staff.
Basic email communication would also improve efficiency. Internally, I will be an advocate for all district courts in Montgomery County to upgrade the way in which technology is used to assist the public.
I also believe that wherever possible a District Court should be in an existing government building. The taxpayers are paying over $5,000 a month rent when the court could be located in a municipal building, thus giving the rent money back to the taxpayers.
Upper Dublin Patch to both candidates: Are there any other campaign messages or ideas that you would like the voters to know?
Michael Paston: The incumbent judge is a good person- that is not at issue. But after a quarter century of doing things exactly the same way it is time for a change. Voters should make a change in this election because they have a challenger who has law experience, public service experience, and cares deeply about our community. The incumbent judge has spent her entire career working in a government job. I believe our community is best served by elected officials who have the credentials and experience to serve, but do not do so for a lifetime.
As your local judge I promise to: Be tough on those who are violent, strict on those who need guidance, and compassionate on those who need another chance.
Patricia Zaffarano: Yes, there are. I would first like to address the issue of campaign contributions raised by my opponent. The inference is disturbing. As someone who has been raised here in Upper Dublin, I have a broad range of community & financial support from family and friends. Also, because I have been active in the Montgomery Bar Association for many years, I have many friends and colleagues who are supportive of my position of Magisterial District Judge.
A number of those who have contributed financial support have not appeared before me in my role as judge. I have worked to develop a reputation for being fair and a person of integrity. County and community leaders from both sides of the aisle, including District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, have supported me for this office because of those qualities. Only someone who doesn’t know me would think that a monetary donation would have any influence on a decision I render as a judge.
Second, we take great pride in our extensive use of alternative disposition programs for the young people who come before the Court. Programs such as Aldersgate, Brief Motivational Interviewing and Community Service are just a few examples of programs we employ, all in an effort to help insure that “errors in judgment” are not repeated.
Finally, I truly hope the voters will consider my qualifications and experience as well as the excellent reputation this Court has throughout the County and support me in my bid to continue to serve as Your District Judge.
Also on the issues:
- District Judge candidates Patricia Zaffarano and Michael Paston
- Upper Dublin Ward 1 Commissioner candidates Liz Ferry (R) and John Minehart (D)
- Upper Dublin Ward 5 Commissioner candidates Howard Ford (R) and Rebecca Gushue (D)
- Upper Dublin Ward 7 Commissioner candidates Paul Brown (R) and Stan Ropski (D)
- Upper Dublin School Board Candidates Marsha Andrews, Vanessa Good, Art Levinowitz, Joan Ryder Ludwig, Steven Melick, Debbie Mendelson, and David Robinson.