New Castle News

Closer Look

March 27, 2013

Supreme Court affirms district judge realignment

NEW CASTLE — The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has decided to eliminate the magisterial district of Judge David B. Rishel, effective in 2018.

The commissioners Tuesday acknowledged a March 12 order from the high court that affirms redistricting in Lawrence County. The order reduces the number of magisterial districts from five to four, effective Jan. 1, 2018, at the end of Rishel’s term.

Two districts — those of Melissa A. Amodie and Jennifer Nicholson — will remain unchanged.

Rishel’s district will be reapportioned. Shenango, Hickory, Plain Grove, Scott and Washington townships and South New Castle Borough will be assigned to District Judge Scott McGrath’s jurisdiction, and Slippery Rock Township assigned to the court of District Judge Jerry G. Cartwright.

Rishel, who is 64, said Tuesday he does not intend to run again for the office. Under state law, he would be mandated to retire in 2020 at age of 70. He will be age 68 in 2018.

“When I’m going to retire, I really don’t know,” Rishel said Tuesday. “I don’t plan on running again.”

He has been a magisterial district judge for 25 years. His court has existed for about 43 years. He succeeded Ruth French, who held the elected position for 18 years.

Rishel said he hopes his three full-time employees will be assigned to other district judge offices when the realignment occurs.

“The work is still going to be there,” he said, “and I don’t want to see anybody lose their job.”

According to Dominick Motto, Lawrence County Common Pleas Court president judge, the Supreme Court was assessing the need for the current number of district judge districts in every county.

The state was trying to determine where the number could be reduced, because the governor had cut a large amount out of the court budget, he said.

“The court system statewide had been underfunded,” Motto explained, and after the 2010 census, every county was looked at for possible reductions.

The state sent a request to the county for information regarding population and workload in each judge district, and court administrator Michael Occhibone was the point man, the judge explained.

The state used a formula that included the number of case filings plus the types of cases for each judge, he said.

“Under its guidelines, we actually could have lost two positions,” Motto said. “We didn’t want to lose any. We felt all of our judges work hard and have adequate schedules. But we recommended a plan that would eliminate one position and not two. The one recommended (to eliminate Rishel’s district) is the one that is in the March 12 order.”

The county had asked the state to delay he change until 2018, to coincide with the end of Rishel’s current term, he said, and the Supreme Court obliged.

No other changes are included for Lawrence County.

“We’re grateful that the commonwealth accepted our plan, because they could have cut deeper and sooner,” Motto commented. “It could have been much worse.”

Rishel who said he had input into the county’s recommendation, commented, “Motto and Occhibone were given a choice or the state would make a choice. We just tried to do what we felt was right.”

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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