The Chester County Court of Common Pleas bench may soon include two new members as judicial appointments are pending in Harrisburg.
Two local attorneys – Democrat Nichole Forzato and Republican Louis Mincarelli – have been nominated by Gov. Tom Wolf to fill the vacant seats on the court and could soon be confirmed by the Republican-led state Senate, observers say. with information about the sensitive and politically complicated process of appointing judges to trial courts throughout the state.
Forzato, a newcomer to the county’s legal landscape, is currently county attorney, a position she held in 2020 when county commissioners were dominated by Democrats. Mincarelli, who is a partner at a Philadelphia law firm, ran unsuccessfully for judge of the Court of Common Pleas in 2021, finishing with the most votes of the two GOP candidates.
“I am honored to have received Governor Wolf’s nomination,” Forzato said in an email Friday. “Right now, I’m focused on serving the county in my current capacity.”
“If I’m lucky enough to be confirmed by the Pennsylvania State Senate, it will be a dream come true,” Mincarelli said Friday, also describing Wolf’s nomination as an “honor.” “Just as I promised voters when I ran for office in 2021, I will strive to be a fair and impartial judge. I have built my career helping people from all walks of life find justice I am confident that my professional and personal experiences have prepared me to serve the residents of Chester County as a judge.
News of their appointments was confirmed Thursday by Wolf’s publicist, Elizabeth Rementer. She did not respond to follow-up questions about how the confirmation process was reached, but political observers speculated that Wolf and the Senate majority reached a common solution to fill a number of vacant jobs.
“It all comes down to cross-party politics in Harrisburg,” said a county Democratic insider, who asked to speak anonymously. “A major deal will have to be negotiated for all of this to happen.” Only the governor can nominate candidates for judicial vacancies, but only the state senate can confirm them. With parties opposed to power, agreements must be reached to bridge this political gap.
According to another source, a Republican, in April Wolf’s General Counsel’s office invited interested candidates to submit resumes to fill judicial vacancies statewide, including the two vacant positions at the Court of Common Pleas in Chester County caused by the 2021 retirements of Judge Jacqueline Carrol Cody. and Judge Katherine BL Platt. (Both now serve part-time as senior judges.)
The list of candidates has not been published by Rementer, although speculation in county legal circles is that it includes both those who have sought the position in the past and prominent members of the legal community. .
If approved by the committee, the nominees would then need a two-thirds vote in the Senate to be confirmed. Candidates become judges after confirmation. Bipartisan sources said the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to meet on Tuesday to consider the nominations of 13 judicial nominees, including Forzato and Mincarelli.
It is likely that the committee would recommend all the names to the full Senate and that the Senate could confirm the nominees next week or the week after. “It’s a reasonable time as I think their goal is to confirm before they leave for the summer,” one of the sources said.
If indeed confirmed, Forzato and Mincarelli would be placed on the bench in various capacities depending on the assignments given to them by Presiding Judge Joh. Hall. A veteran criminal defense attorney, Mincarelli could potentially take over a criminal case. Platt’s vacancy leaves an open seat in the county family court, which could be awarded to Forzato.
Either way, the two lawyers are set to face voters for a full 10-year term in 2023, first by appearing in the primary ballot and then, if nominated, in November of that year.
They will not be alone. It is expected that at least five seats on the bench will be elected next year, with the expected retirement of current judges David Bortner, Edward Griffith and Jeffrey Sommer, who have all signaled that they will not seek to remain. .
But in addition, a sixth seat may be available. Last week, State Senator Carolyn Comitta, D-19th, of West Chester announced that a proposal she had made to add an additional judge to the county trial court bench had been approved by the Senate and sent to the State House of Representatives for consideration. .
Although they come from different political parties, Forzato and Mincarelli share one thing in common: neither has extensive experience in county courtrooms.
Prior to being appointed county attorney, Forzato, 46, of Easttown, served as a senior deputy attorney general in that office’s Norristown criminal prosecution section. She had previously served as an assistant attorney for Montgomery County, where she worked with then-commissioner Josh Shapiro, who was her boss as state attorney general.
Forzato became the first woman to head the Chester County Solicitor’s office, which is responsible for initiating and defending civil suits involving the county and its various departments, as well as providing legal advice to commissioners and others. county officials in their daily work. business day under state county code. She was also the first Democrat to lead that office.
Since taking office, Forzato has had a major impact on how the county conducts business and played a significant role in numerous disputes over election law and procedures in 2021 and 2022.
“I worked in the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office for five years and absolutely loved the job,” she said in a phone interview upon her appointment. “I moved to Chester County just over a year and a half ago, and I think it’s an amazing county. When I saw the opportunity to potentially serve the county, I was enthusiastic. I think I am a good candidate.
Forzato, who attended Notre Dame de Villanova Academy for high school and then Villanova University as an undergraduate, is married to former Montgomery County Detective Lieutenant Stephen Forzato.
Mincarelli, 49, of East Brandywine, came third last year in the election to take two joint plea seats behind current Justices Alita Rovito and Anthony Verway, both Democrats. He is a partner in the law firm McCullough McLaughlin & Mincarelli and a graduate of Temple University School of Law, he devotes the majority of his practice to defending clients in criminal cases in Philadelphia.
“I believe I am uniquely qualified to be a fair lawyer because I have represented clients from all walks of life, on both sides of the courtroom,” he said in an email, referring to his previous work in the Philadelphia district. Prosecutor’s Office. “The foundation of who I am starts with the values of hard work and dedication, which I learned from my parents at an early age.
“It’s not something that can be read in a book or a blog, but rather something I’ve learned over my years in the courtroom – on the front lines of our legal system,” he said. he declared.
If confirmed, the two would not be the first county judges to sit because of Harrisburg’s brokerage. In 1992, Cody was nominated by Governor Bob Casey, alongside Republicans James P. MacElree II and Howard F. Riley. In 2005, longtime county attorney Ronald Nagle, also a Republican, was nominated by Democratic Governor Ed Rendell.
To contact editor Michael P. Rellahan, call 610-696-1544.