Three state Superior Court judges are hearing arguments at the Lancaster County courthouse Wednesday and Thursday as an educational community outreach of sorts.
Superior Court is an appeals court and panels of its 15 judges usually meet in Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but occasionally meet elsewhere.
Holding sessions elsewhere gives the legal community and public an opportunity to see the court at work and learn more about the appeals process, according to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
Two days of sessions in Lancaster began Wednesday, marking the first time since the pandemic that Superior Court judges listened to arguments in person.
Lancaster County President Judge David Ashworth welcomed Judges Ference Olson, Mary Jane Bowes and Megan McCarthy King.
Being back in Lancaster was also a homecoming of sorts for King, who worked on elder- and child-abuse cases for the Lancaster County District Attorney’s office from 1996 to 1999 and 2012 to 2015.
King later joined the Chester County District Attorney’s office and was elected to a 10-year term on the Superior Court in November 2019. She said it was “wonderful to be back in Lancaster and to see some familiar faces” in the courthouse.
Olson told the few people gathered Wednesday morning in the ceremonial courtroom of the old courthouse that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, created in 1727, is the nation’s oldest appeals court and that the Superior Court was created in 1895 to help the Supreme Court.
Pennsylvania’s Superior Court is one of the busiest courts in the country, hearing about 8,000 cases a year, Olson said.
Just five of the several dozen cases scheduled for Wednesday’s and Thursday’s sessions concern parties with ties to Lancaster County. One involves a divorce and two concern business ventures.
One case scheduled for Thursday is an appeal in a criminal case.
Christopher Shaw, 35, of Lancaster, was convicted of carrying a firearm without a license and public drunkenness earlier this year and was sentenced to 6-23 months in jail.
According to Lancaster police, Shaw was drunk when he walked out of his house in August 2019 with a handgun concealed in his waistband. He did not have a concealed carry permit.
Police had stopped him in the 400 block of Poplar Street after getting a call about a man walking down the street carrying “some type of rifle,” according to police. Shaw told police he heard a disturbance and went to check it out.
The other Lancaster case to be argued Thursday concerns a wrongful death claim in which the widow of a Camp Hill dentist killed in an April 2018 plane crash near Altoona wants her case reinstated.
Pilot James Durkin, an East Hempfield Township business owner, and passenger Stephen Grady departed the Lancaster airport to attend a University of Notre Dame Alumni Association Leadership Conference.
The crash was determined to be pilot error. Grady’s widow, Patricia Grady, sued Aero-Tech Services, which operates near the airport, and two of its instructors, claiming they were responsible for her husband’s death because they failed to adequately instruct him.
Lancaster County Judge Leonard Brown dismissed the case in January, finding that educational malpractice is not recognized grounds for a claim in Pennsylvania.
Depending on the case, attorneys for each party receive either five to 15 minutes to make their case, elaborating on written arguments previously submitted. Judges do not rule from the bench.
After today’s session, the judges are scheduled to travel to Tioga County for their next satellite hearings.