By Sabina Clarke
Recently, I caught up with Judge Kevin Dougherty, a candidate for one of the three vacant seats opening up on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court — the highest court in the Commonwealth and the oldest court in the nation — predating the United States Supreme Court by 67 years. The election is on November 3rd.
Dougherty, a South Philadelphia native and resident of Northeast Philadelphia, who was endorsed by the Pennsylvania Democratic Party prior to the May primary, is recognized as an expert on juvenile justice and for implementing substantial reforms to the juvenile justice system.
A graduate of Temple University and Antioch School of Law in Washington, D.C., he began his career as district attorney in Philadelphia working with mostly juvenile cases. He then spent six years in private practice with a concentration in family law and juvenile cases providing legal services to the indigent.
In 2001, he was appointed by Governor Tom Ridge to the Court of Common Pleas. Then at his own request, he was assigned to Family Court where he emphasized treatment and rehabilitation of at-risk youth as opposed to placement.
In 2014, he was selected by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to be Administrative Judge of the Trial Division in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. He oversaw all aspects of Pennsylvania’s largest civil and criminal trial court system.
Widely respected for ensuring that all who come before him have “fair access to a fair process,” Dougherty says, “I want the black robe I wear to be viewed by those who come before me as a beacon of hope rather than a symbol of fear.”
1. Why are you running for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court?
I have devoted my entire professional life to the pursuit of equal justice for all under the law. I have been preparing for this moment for decades through hard work, dedication and results. The Justices of the State Supreme Court fulfill an incredibly important role in our judicial system. It is a high calling that I am honored to pursue and would be humbled to earn.
2. In 2001, after being appointed by Governor Tom Ridge to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, you asked to be assigned to Family Court — what did you like the most about that time?
I am a parent and know firsthand of the challenges of raising children to be healthy, productive members of our society. My heart aches for children who are caught in a cycle of poverty and all the accompanying societal ills – domestic violence, truancy, addiction and crime. I wanted to dedicate my efforts and employ my extensive legal training to helping Philadelphia’s children avoid or escape that terrible cycle. I will always be indebted to the Supreme Court for affording me the opportunity to lead Philadelphia Family Court for nearly a decade.
3. In your tenure as Supervising Judge and later Administrative Judge of the Philadelphia Family Court, you implemented many significant reforms to the juvenile justice system — do you see any improvement needed in the reputation of the State Supreme Court?
There is room always room for improvement – personally, in business, government, the courts and virtually every walk of life. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently experienced some negative press that may have eroded some public confidence. The Court can recapture the public’s confidence through a recommitment to transparency and the highest code of professional ethics.
4. You are known for your toughness, your fairness, your compassion and your administrative ability — how will these qualities impact the court if you are elected?
The personal qualities you describe provide me with the breadth of experience and judicial temperament that the good people of Pennsylvania should want in a State Supreme Court Justice.
5. In your many years on the bench, other than your own critical decision making and your innate sense of justice — do you seek guidance from any other source in your decision making?
Throughout my judicial career, I have had the good fortune of knowing many thoughtful and experienced judges whose wisdom and educated opinions I have occasionally sought out. I, also, always pray.
6. How is the Pope’s visit — in the midst of your campaign — affecting your outreach?
The Papal visit is a once-in-a-lifetime event that we should all embrace and cherish. I hope to have the opportunity to meet Pope Francis while he’s in Philadelphia and personally thank him for his courage, leadership and deep, abiding faith. His trip to America has not really impacted my campaign or outreach.
7. Have you considered asking Pope Francis for his endorsement?
Although I would be honored beyond all measure by the Pope’s endorsement, I have no intention of asking for it. I am certain Pope Francis has weightier issues on his mind than my election to the State Supreme Court. I would like him to say a “Hail Mary” for me!