Two candidates will vie for a decade-long term as a Common Courts Plea judge in the 17th Judicial District serving Union and Snyder counties in the May 18 primary.
Snyder County Assistant District Attorney Brian L. Kerstetter and District Judge Lori R. Hackenberg have both cross-filed seeking the Republican and Democratic nominations. In the event one candidate wins both nominations they will be the likely victor barring a successful write-in candidacy.
Otherwise, if each candidate receives a majority of votes for one party’s nomination, they will compete again in November for the 10-year position overseeing criminal, civil, orphans and family court.
The seat is currently held by President Judge Michael T. Hudock who is retiring at the end of this year after serving one 10-year term. Judge Michael H. Sholley will likely take over as president judge in 2022.
Both Hackenberg and Kerstetter say they have the experience to succeed Hudock.
Kerstetter, 47, of Lewisburg, has been a practicing attorney for 21 years and a prosecutor for 17 years.
Hackenberg, 46, of Mount Pleasant Mills, is a 17-year practicing attorney who has served as an elected district judge in Middleburg since 2012.
“I don’t think wisdom is bound by age,” said Kerstetter, who touts his “broad experience” as an attorney with more than two decades of trial experience — including more than 100 trials, as well as many custody, divorce and civil cases — which has brought him the support of 27 area attorneys and the State Pennsylvania Troopers Association.
“There is no area of the law that a Court of Common Pleas judge deals with that I haven’t been involved in,” he said.
Hackenberg said her nine years of experience as a district judge in Middleburg and appointment as a substitute jurist in the county’s treatment court in 2017 sets her apart as the ideal candidate for the Court of Common Pleas.
“As a judge, I have offered defendants a fair opportunity to be heard. I have a proven record of serving with integrity, dignity and respect for the people that come before me,” she said.
Kerstetter argues that Hackenberg’s work as a district judge is not comparable to the responsibilities of a Court of Common Pleas judge.
“It’s like comparing apples to oranges,” he said. “You don’t have to be an attorney to be a district judge, the rules of procedure are different and it’s not a court of record.”
Hackenberg said her nearly decade-long tenure in the district court and last three years serving as a fill-in overseeing the treatment courts has prepared her for the county court judgeship.
“I have been a judge on the front lines. Voters don’t have to guess what kind of judge I’ll be,” she said.
Hackenberg said she doesn’t see an issue with serving in the judicial district that includes Union County, where her brother-in-law, Brian Ulmer, is chief public defender.
“Conflicts happen,” she said. “It will be up to the president judge to determine how that would be handled.”
Kerstetter said the familial relationship could be a “major issue” if Hackenberg were forced to recuse herself from many cases, requiring the president or a senior judge to step in.
Both candidates support treatment courts, which Hackenberg said she has seen help “save lives.”
Kerstetter said he would like to expand the program to include treatment court for veterans.