To show support for an Allegheny County judge running for Pa. Supreme Court, members of the local Democratic establishment joined those from another Pittsburgh institution Wednesday: the Steelers.
Team owner Art Rooney II gathered with Mayor Bill Peduto and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald in the County Courthouse courtyard to back Common Pleas Judge Dwayne D. Woodruff, who played with the Steelers for 12 seasons and officially kicked off his Supreme Court campaign today.
“I have known Dwayne since he first came to our city,” Rooney said. “At the time … I was actually in law school. And I think he looked at me and said, ‘Well, if he can do it, I can do it.'”
Woodruff graduated from Duquesne University School of Law in 1988. He practiced law while playing for the Steelers between 1988 and 1990, and co-founded Woodruff & Flaherty (now Flaherty Fardo) in 1997. He’s been a judge on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas since 2005, primarily in Family Court.
“I see and interact with children and families all the time,” he told The Incline. His work in the community has allowed him to ask people “what their thoughts are, what their needs are, what their opinions are, how the law’s affected them.”
Those issues include gerrymandering, incarceration rates and education, he said.
“Every kid isn’t receiving the appropriate education,” Woodruff said. “All those things are issues I hear in Family Court that I’m sure our Supreme Court is going to be addressing now and in the future.”
Woodruff lost a bid to serve on the state’s high court in 2015. This time around, he has the endorsement of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.
Three Supreme Court seats will be on the November ballot. To continue serving, Chief Justice Thomas Saylor and Justice Debra Todd must stand for retention.
Woodruff is seeking the seat J. Michael Eakin vacated in spring 2016 after a judicial tribunal found him guilty of ethical misconduct over inappropriate emails. Woodruff “likely will face one of two Republicans,” the Post-Gazette reported: Justice Sallie Updyke Mundy, who was appointed to the court by Gov. Tom Wolf after Eakin’s resignation, or Superior Court Judge Judy Olson.
Saylor and Mundy are currently the only two Republican justices. That makeup is key to redistricting reform in a state with one of the worst election systems in the country, according to experts. As Peduto said while introducing Woodruff, his election would influence “what the entire commonwealth will look like in the state legislature [and] in Congress.”
Still, Woodruff stressed to The Incline the importance of an independent, non-partisan judicial branch.
“When you look at our nation, and every state as well, there is a balance, and the judicial court needs to stay independent,” Woodruff said. “Just over the last month or so, you can see how important it is to have an independent judiciary that’s not Democrat, that’s not Republican. That’s looking at our country and looking at our state independently and making the appropriate decisions.”