Pictured in Courier file photo is Chief Judge Gary Lancaster who died suddenly April 24, 2013 at his home in Stanton Heights. He was 63.
As part of its continuing efforts to promote diversity, the Black Political Empowerment Project has initiated a campaign to have an African-American appointed to the US District Court for Western Pennsylvania.
The court has been without a Black judge since Chief Judge Gary Lancaster suffered a fatal heart attack in April.
When he was appointed to the court in 2009, Lancaster was the only African-American serving on any U.S. District Court.
In a letter dated Oct. 14, Tim Stevens, B-PEP president, began soliciting support from a variety of sources requesting President Obama make a new appointment, among those contacted are U.S. Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey–who will ultimately make recommendations to the president, US Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa.; Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl; Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Peduto; and both Allegheny Democratic Party Chair Nancy Mills and Republican Party Chair Jim Roddey.
The effort also has the support of both Esther Bush and Connie Parker, Presidents of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh and the NAACP Pittsburgh unit respectively.
“Part of B-PEP’s mission is that those in political office expeditiously and effectively meet the needs, aspirations and concerns of African-Americans. One of those needs and concerns is to have an African-American presence on the courts at all levels of government, locally, statewide and nationally,” Stevens said. “With the disproportionate number of people of color coming before the courts throughout this nation a significant expansion of the numbers of African-Americans on the bench remains a high priority of our organization.”
Pittsburgh Council President Darlene Harris not only supports the initiative, she took it a step further by introducing a “Will of Council” resolution calling for the appointment of an African-American female to the court.
“I not only want to see an African-American on the bench, but an African-American woman,” she said. “Because there has never been an African-American woman on that court and it would be nice to be the first.” The resolution passed unanimously.
“I was very pleased to see that and welcome council’s support,” said Stevens.
Coincidentally, Stevens said, Harris’ push for a female candidate may be fortuitous because all the Black candidates he is aware of are female.
“The three African-American candidates I know of are Asst. U.S. Attorney Rebecca Haywood, U.S. Public Defender Lisa Freeland and attorney and former Common Pleas Court candidate Rosemary Crawford,” he said. “Both Superior Court Judge Cheryl Allen and Common Pleas Judge Dwayne Woodruff have told me they are not interested.”
All of the supporting recommendations will, or have been, forwarded to attorney Laura Ellsworth of Jones Day, co-chair of the search committee to fill Lancaster’s seat. Once the interviews are completed, she will in turn forward the committee’s choice to Casey and Toomey.
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