The contest for Superior Court has given us an opportunity to reflect on the qualifications that a good trial judge should possess.
Mainly and most importantly, a Superior Court judge presides over trials. Jury trials are the acid test of a trial judge's competence. Jury trials are demanding because the rules of evidence are crucial. Faced with aggressive, skilled and committed trial advocates disputing an evidentiary issue, the trial judge must rule. The consequences of that ruling can be profound, yet the ruling must be made promptly, without time for independent research and with incomplete information. The trial judge is alone and solely responsible for a rule that is made under intense pressure.
If evidence is admitted or excluded erroneously the losing party may appeal; the appellate court will reverse the trial judge and remand the case for a new trial. The process and results of appellate litigation are expensive, stressful and time-consuming to the parties. These "do-overs" are also expensive to the public that funds the Courthouse staff, prosecutors, public defenders and juries.
As a trial and appellate practitioner for more than 37 years, I have been lead counsel in dozens of cases tried to juries in state and federal courts. I have handled scores of appeals in state and federal appellate courts. In my experience, the best indicator that a judge will conduct an error- free trial is his or her prior experience as an advocate before a jury.
Richard Wernette has extensive experience as a lead jury trial lawyer. Based on the collective memories I have surveyed, Scott Wolfram has no experience as lead counsel in jury trials - none. Mr. Wolfram's lack of experience would disqualify him from an appointment by the Superior Court to represent an indigent at a major felony trial. It should likewise disqualify him from presiding at such trials.
The work of a trial judge is a high craft that can best, if not only, be learned by practice as a trial lawyer. The election of a trial judge should not turn on whether a candidate has represented only clean-cut citizens or has led a Boy Scout troop.
Rather, the election should turn on whether the candidate has learned the craft necessary to serve the public as a member of the judicial branch of government. Richard Wernette has learned the craft well. Scott Wolfram has not.
The choice is clear. For a competent, economic and fair Superior Court, our votes should be for Richard Wernette.
Michael E. de Grasse