Interview with Chris Pielli, candidate for District Justice

Why are you running for DJ in the West Goshen / Westtown / Thornbury district?

I chose to run for this position because I believe full-time tax payers deserve a full-time judge. I believe that we don’t have to settle for the way things are always done but rather for the way things should be done. I saw an opportunity to make a positive impact in our community. I knew that my experience and background would enable me to serve the district residents well and improve the court to fit their needs.

What sorts of cases does a DJ hear?

The number and types of cases a DJ hears is impressive. To start with, DJs preside over minor criminal offenses (also called summary offenses), traffic violations, landlord / tenant matters, and other civil actions such as law suits where the amount of damages sought does not exceed $12,000.

For felony and misdemeanor cases, District Judges preside over preliminary hearings, issue arrest and search warrants, hold preliminary arraignments, and set bail. They also issue Protection from Abuse orders and subpoenas and handle matters of truancy.

District Judges can also perform marriages.

Is a law degree important to this job?

Although I believe having a law degree could help one become a better District Judge, I don’t believe that it is necessary. For example, there are some attorneys who practice only trademark law. How would this type of lawyer be a better DJ compared to a police officer or constable who has served the same community for many years and has been in District Courts continually as part of that service?

I know and admire several District Judges whom I have had cases before on many occasions, who do not have a law degree and are excellent judges.

How is the pay?

It’s my understanding that the annual salary is $86,639 and it is a full-time position. For most hard working Americans, this is no small bit of change and that is all the more reason why I believe full-time taxpayers deserve a full-time judge.

What in your background suits you for this position?

I have a long and diverse background of public service, starting with my service with the U.S. Army as both a reservist and active duty soldier. From the Army, I returned to work at the Chester County Prison, where I served both as a Correctional Officer and later as a Correctional Counselor.

As an attorney, I served as a Chester County Public Defender for five years, which gave me the opportunity to stand in front of each and every District Court in this County. I learned much from the District Judges I stood before and I am the only candidate that can say I have been in front of all of them.

I believe my insight into the Chester County criminal justice system is unique, valuable, and balanced due to these collective experiences. I am the only candidate to have witnessed the criminal justice system at work from different professional perspectives — from within prison walls as a Correctional Officer and Counselor, and throughout Chester County as an attorney.

I opened my own practice in 2004 to serve our community’s legal needs in the areas of criminal, family, estate, traffic, and various civil law matters. I am licensed to practice law in the states of Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. I am a long time arbitrator for the Chester County Court of Common Pleas, where I have presided over just about every conceivable type of civil suit there is.

How do you feel about jumping out of airplanes?

The first step is a doozy. I had the honor of attending and completing the U.S. Army Airborne Course in Fort Benning, GA, and was subsequently stationed at Fort Bragg, NC, with the 82nd Airborne. The Airborne Course trains paratroopers in order to provide the Department of Defense with soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to conduct airborne operations anywhere, worldwide. So I met some really interesting people, Navy Seals, Rangers, Green Berets, Marine Recon, etc. I was honored just to be in the same room as these men and women and it was a great experience.

What you think of the job the incumbent DJ is doing?

I think we can do better and I think we deserve better. If I didn’t believe in my heart that I could do a better job I wouldn’t be wasting anyone’s time, including my own.

Bill Kraut has made some choices while serving as our District Judge that I just don’t agree with. I feel extremely uncomfortable with the idea that a person can be a judge and be actively engaged in the private practice of law at the same time. Recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that their judicial employees cannot privately practice law while they are employed by the appellate court system. This ruling came down because of some serious conflict of interest issues. I believe that this should apply to our district judges.

As an attorney, you owe your clients a tremendously high ethical obligation to zealously represent them in their legal matters. At the same time, as a District Judge, you have the awesome duties of service that you owe each and every one of the residents of your judicial district. The truth is the incumbent DJ has handled hundreds of private cases, many right here in Chester County, while he was supposed to be serving us. If you want to be a lawyer, be a lawyer. If you want to be a judge, be a judge. I can’t see how you can claim to be totally dedicated to this public service position and serve two “masters” at the same time.

In addition to this, I feel that his practice of leaving our court unattended to voluntarily serve in the Philadelphia Traffic Court shows such a lack of respect to the position to which he was elected that he does not deserve a second chance at serving us. I ask voters, would you continue to employ someone who left their post to work elsewhere while you were paying his or her salary? Of course not, and this should hold true for our District Judge too.

How about court hours, are they flexible as to number and time of day?

The District Court is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and I firmly believe that the District Judge should be there during every bit of that time. If a public servant is getting paid approximately $87,000 a year with full benefits, I think the least he or she can do is be there at their job.

That’s what most Americans have to do for a living. Why shouldn’t we expect the same from our District Judge? Unfortunately, my opponent doesn’t follow this practice. However, there are some who do. I know of a Chester County DJ who personally opens his courtroom doors every day at 8:30 a.m. and is there for closing at 4:30 p.m.

That’s the kind of DJ I want to be for you.

Do you see this as primarily a political race, or is party affiliation not a prime issue?

It shouldn’t be about party politics. I strongly believe Democrats, Republicans, and Independents can agree on the issues that I am running on. In the end, we all want what is best for our community and what is best for our future. My intent when entering this race was to better serve the residents in our district. The truthful issues I raised are fair, and legitimately and directly affect each of us.

I want our residents to know about them because I think they are being shortchanged and mislead. I am constantly trying to remind them that they deserve better. They deserve a District Judge who can serve the full term if elected, who will refrain from leaving our court unattended to make money elsewhere, and who will give up his private practice of law to totally dedicate his time, energy, and efforts to serve as your District Judge. Unfortunately, that’s not what they are getting now.

Why should residents care who is their DJ?

As taxpayers and voters, we should always care who is elected to serve us. Recent history shows us that when we start disregarding public positions, such as District Judge, things can go south rather quickly. If no one cares, you can get away with treating this job and others like it, as a part-time endeavor.

Well, I’m not running on how things have usually been done. I’m running on how things should be done. We deserve the highest level of public service our taxpaying dollars can support. And if we don’t get it, then we should send that public servant packing.

If you win, how long would you like to serve and how would that mesh with any other career plans?

I would consider myself most fortunate and honored to be able to serve in this post until retirement.

Two local DJs have recently been accused or found guilty of malfeasance on the job. Whatever the merits of those cases, are there a lot of temptations for DJs to do things they shouldn’t?

When you are elected to a position that grants you near autonomous power over how you run your court, I am sure temptations are possible. However, I think all of us face temptations each day of our lives.

What makes a person good or bad? What makes a judge good or bad? I think it’s about the choices we make and how we react to those choices that will define us in the end. We are all human. We all make mistakes, but we shouldn’t keep making the same mistakes because then it becomes a pattern of behavior. We must always strive and struggle towards our better nature and be true to ourselves and others we serve. If we really do this, I think we can avoid these temptations.

What is your overall philosophy of public service?

Public service is about serving the public. not serving oneself. Unfortunately, too many public officials forget this basic and fundamental premise. You are there to serve your community to the best of your ability and with all of your dedication and energy – period.

How does the mandatory retirement age law for judges affect this race?

Bill Kraut has served only one term as District Judge and cannot finish his second term if re-elected due to the mandatory retirement age law. He put out a misleading robo call right before the May primary telling voters that “Between a lawsuit and legislation, it is becoming clear I will be able to finish a new term.” This misleading statement was quickly proven untrue when both the State Supreme Court and the Federal Court threw out the lawsuits.

Now the only way to change this law is by having it passed twice by both the House and the Senate and then be approved by a statewide voter referendum. This is an extremely difficult thing to do and even the sponsors of this bill have doubts that it will succeed. One thing is for sure, it’s going to take a long time and this will not be done by this election.

What I find extremely ironic is that Bill Kraut used this same issue against his opponent during the last election. It was actually one of his biggest issues and he won. I think it is our right to ask Bill Kraut, what it is about this law he loved so much back then but can’t stand now.

Many people ask me why he would want to run when he can’t finish the job. I think part of it has to do with the fact that if he is reelected and serves only part of his second term due to the mandatory retirement age, he will get a vested retirement and full medical benefits at the taxpayer’s expense. That’s great for him, but is that what the voters deserve?

During the last election Bill Kraut would have agreed with me wholeheartedly on this issue. But now it seems when it personally involves his gain, he holds himself to a different standard.

How can voters find out more about you and your campaign?

At http://chrispielliforjudge.com/.

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About politicswestchesterview

Nathaniel regards himself as a progressive Democrat who sees a serious need to involve more Americans in the political process if we are to rise to Ben Franklin's challenge "A republic, madam, if you can keep it," after a passerby asked him what form of government the founders had chosen. This blog gives my views and background information on the local, state, and national political scenes. My career in higher education was mainly in the areas of international studies, foreign languages, and student advising, most recently at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, from which I retired in 2006. I have lived in West Chester since 1986.
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