Voting season isn’t over. With eyes on the May 18 primary, three local Jewish attorneys are seeking positions on the bench.
Jill Beck, a Temple Sinai member, is running for judge of the Pennsylvania Superior Court.
Given her previous experience and longstanding commitment to public service, Beck said she’s “ready to start on day one.”
As a civil litigator at Blank Rome, and earlier in her work with the nonprofit KidsVoice, Beck represented vulnerable and underserved members of society, including children and victims of domestic violence.
The Squirrel Hill resident said her 10 years as law clerk for the Honorable Christine Donohue on Pennsylvania’s Superior Court and Supreme Court gave her insight into the judiciary’s critical role.
“The Superior Court is an error-correcting court, which means it reviews the decisions of the Courts of Common Pleas and decides, looking through a very narrow lens, whether the decision below was right or wrong,” said Beck. “To me, that is an extremely important function. It is part and parcel of giving people their day in court, to know that there is a secondary level of review, to ensure that justice was done and that the correct decision was reached.”
Beck has drafted more than 500 decisions “of the very kind that I will get to decide if elected to the Superior Court,” she said. “So I know very well exactly how much work it is to do this job and to do it right. That's one of the things that motivates me to run for this court. It's important that the job is done thoroughly and the review is complete because otherwise justice is denied.”
If elected to the 10-year post, Beck said she’ll “put in the time” to “make sure that the job is done right.”
Beck, 41, is a married mother of two and active volunteer. She has participated in the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Good Deeds Day, organized a program to furnish food-insecure children with backpacks filled with school supplies and serves on the board of the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition.
Marc Daffner, a member of Beth El Congregation of the South Hills, is running for judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County.
With 28 years of practice, and having handled thousands of cases statewide, Daffner said he’s perfectly suited for the position of judge.
“I haven't just stayed here at home in Allegheny County,” he said. “I've seen and experienced the best and the worst that at least half of our state has to offer. I know what works. I know what doesn't work. And that's really put me in touch with people from all walks of life which is also important. As a judge you can't just live life in a vacuum and expect to perform the job adequately on the bench — you need to know about people.”
His three decades legal practice has focused on criminal defense, family law and commercial litigation. He is the founding member and managing attorney of Daffner & Associates, and if elected to the 10-year position of judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Daffner said he will have an opportunity to continue directing people to positive paths.
“I tell clients all the time that after I get them out of trouble ‘I never want to see you again unless it's a social call or something like that,’” he said. “I want people to get their act together. Being a judge will allow me to do that.”
In addition to being named a Pennsylvania "Super Lawyer," a peer-review placement of the top 5% of Pennsylvania attorneys, Daffner, 52, was named one of the Top 100 Criminal Trial Lawyers by the National Trial Lawyers. A resident of the South Hills, Daffner is a married father of three, who has written two books, and participates in several community organizations including Rotary Club, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and Animal Friends, and has coached youth hockey. In raising funds for Special Olympics Pennsylvania, Daffner has regularly participated in Pittsburgh’s Polar Bear Plunge.
Bryan Neft, a member of Beth El Congregation of the South Hills, is running for judge of the Pennsylvania Superior Court.
A past president of the Allegheny County Bar Association and a member of the group’s gender bias subcommittee, Neft has spent decades practicing commercial litigation, health care and toxic tort law. His career has been dedicated to creating fairness and equity, he said.
If elected to the Superior Court, Neft said he will continue upholding those principles.
“The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a very diverse electorate at the end of the day,” Neft said. “The people in northeast Pennsylvania are very different from the people that are in southwest Pennsylvania, and very different from those that are in Philadelphia. As a judge on the appellate court, everybody comes into the courtroom with a blank slate. You see people from all walks of life … and people have to know that you believe in that.
“Being a member of the community like I have, and participating in community service to make sure that the underprivileged are served, gives you that insight to be able to help people when they come into the courtroom.”
Neft sees the role of judge as someone who acts as “a public servant” who is “there for the taxpayers,” he said. The job requires “being diligent, being expeditious with decisions, and making sure that every person that comes in that courtroom gets an opportunity to be heard.”
But beyond those responsibilities, serving as a judge on the Superior Court requires integrity, said Neft, 56.
For nearly 15 years, the married father of three has served in leadership roles on the Allegheny County Bar Association's Board of Governors and championed issues affecting women, people of color and LGBTQ+ members of the legal profession. Neft also chaired the committee responsible for drafting the ACBA's Code of Professionalism for the Bar Association. Within the Jewish community, he’s held multiple volunteer positions, including Young Adult Division leader for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and board member of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh. PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.