Seidle-Patton Set to Make History as First Female Judge in Clarion County

| May 28, 2019

CLARION CO., Pa. (EYT) – Clarion attorney Sara Seidle-Patton swept the Republican and the Democratic Parties’ nominations for Clarion County Judge of Common Pleas in last week’s primary election, making history in the county.

(Photo by Dave Cyphert of ProPoint Media Photography)

As the only candidate on the ballot in November’s general election, Seidle-Patton is not only a shoo-in as Clarion County’s first ever female Judge of Common Pleas, it turns out she is the first female to even run for the position, though she chose not to highlight the fact in her campaign.

“I didn’t want to make that big a deal of it because I wanted people to elect me because of my experience and my qualifications and demeanor,” Seidle-Patton told exploreVenango.com.

“I do think it’s pretty exciting, though, especially seeing my daughter and her friends and how they respond and talk about it and how they were excited for the campaign.”

Clarion County’s first female lawyer was Shirley Ann Bellmer, who began serving in 1957. However, the county also produced the first woman to serve on the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. Genevieve Blatt, a native of Clarion County and a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh Law School, was appointed by Governor Milton Shapp in 1972 and was the ninth judge to serve on the Commonwealth Court.

The Courts of Common Pleas in Pennsylvania, which are organized into 60 judicial districts, with anywhere from one to 101 judges, have a number of female judges currently serving, so while Clarion County has never had a female Judge of Common Pleas or a female District Attorney, Seidle-Patton will be joining 133 other female common pleas judges throughout the state of Pennsylvania, including 14 who serve as President Judge of their judicial district.

Job As Journalist Steers Seidle-Patton to Legal Career

According to Seidle-Patton, she didn’t originally set out to go into law, though it was something she considered for a long time.

“I started in journalism, surprisingly, but I always thought I would maybe like to be a lawyer. It was always kind of in the back of my head.”

Her interest in writing began in high school, where she started a school newspaper and continued into her undergraduate years, where she majored in communication with a focus on journalism.

“Because I was kind of interested in politics, and law, I also studied political science and that then increased my interest in studying law,” she noted.

Her first job following her undergraduate degree was working as a reporter for a local newspaper, and she said that position only increased her interest in local government.

“I had this desire to actually want to be involved with it in some capacity instead of just writing about it and reporting on it.”

That drive led her to enroll in Duquesne University School of Law. Seidle-Patton then began her legal career as Assistant District Attorney for Clarion County and has maintained private law offices in New Bethlehem since 2006 and Clarion since 2008. Her practice has focused on real estate matters, business law, municipal law, estate planning, and administration.

Serves As Solicitor

Seidle-Patton has litigated cases in multiple courts throughout Western Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Superior Court. She serves as solicitor for several municipalities throughout Clarion County and Assistant County Solicitor, working with the Clarion County Commissioners on various legal matters.

“Working with the local governments and municipalities and helping them write their ordinances and basically writing background definitely has helped me as a lawyer, and I think will as a judge because I always really like appellate work, as well as working on appeals and reading case law and writing briefs and seeing how it all fits together and trying to keep that consistency in the law. It’s boring to a lot of people, but to me, it’s very interesting.”

Seidle-Patton Gains Reputation As Competent Attorney

As far as her recent political success goes, she credits more to the reputation that she has built for herself than any campaign strategy.

“I think it was not really necessarily what I did in the last five months, but how I conducted myself over my career,” she noted.

“I always tried to make sure people knew I was a very competent attorney and someone they could rely on: fair, respectful, and I think getting that reputation really helped me now.”

While she focused more on her career than on her campaigning, she does give a lot of credit to those to helped campaign for her.

“I was able to get some people in a lot of areas of the county that were supporters of me because I had worked with them and gained their respect, so they didn’t hesitate to go out and campaign for me and help me and spread the word when I decided to run, which I think was really great. It’s humbling to see people coming and saying ‘we think you’d be a great judge and we want to tell people that.'”

CYS Court-Appointed Counsel

Seidle-Patton has worked in Clarion County’s court system by serving as the County’s Juvenile Public Defender and Domestic Relations Hearing Officer. She is court-appointed counsel in Children and Youth Services cases and has served as chairperson of the Board of Viewers for property cases. She also serves as a Master in real estate and divorce proceedings and is the Post Conviction Relief Act attorney for Clarion County.

While she says she will probably still have “a lot to learn” when she first takes the bench, the multiple positions she has served in have given her some ideas for possible changes in the future.

“I think that there are some efficiencies that I would like to change in our courthouse with how certain cases are handled, but I don’t have any dramatic plans.”

Seidle-Patton Comments on County’s Custody Process, CYS System

Seidle-Patton said that custody cases are one area she’d like to investigate more thoroughly.

“I would like to look at our custody process and see if maybe there are some things we could do in the early stages of custody cases to make it, hopefully, to resolve cases quickly. There are some different things we can do there.”

She also noted some practices she’s seen in other counties that she believes could be implemented to help with cases in Clarion County.

“I do want to implement status conferences in civil cases because I think that’s a really good way to get some judicial oversight of the cases early on and make sure they’re moving through the system.”

“Something I’ve seen in other counties that I really like is that intervention from the court can make sure cases are moving through the system. I think it can help cases get resolved, either settled early, or it can help them get to trial early if that’s where they’re headed, and I think that’s something important to do.”

Seidle-Patton also noted she wants to focus some serious effort addressing issues in Clarion County’s Children and Youth Services system, which she discussed during her campaign, noting it is currently “crippled” and saying that “fixing the CYS dependency system in Clarion County will be the critical issue facing our next judge.”

However, she also recognizes that fixing this system isn’t something she can take on by herself.

“I want to help to make our system better any way I can, and I think me as the judge I’ll be one player in doing that, but I think we have to make sure everyone comes to the table and gets involved and gets on board with fixing that system.”

“Like I’ve said before, that’s going to be a team effort that’s going to require working with our county commissioners to make sure they’re aware of the problems, working with the administration at CYS to make sure, from the court’s perspective, that cases are prepared when they come into court, letting them know what the expectations of the court are, the information that we need and want them to present when they come into court, and making sure that we have attorneys that are working in the system that are educated and aware of how things are supposed to be functioning.”

According to Seidle-Patton, one of her primary functions in a team focused on improving Clarion County’s CYS systems would most likely be as a facilitator for communication.

“I think that one thing is just to make sure that there are lines of communication open between all of the players,” she noted.

“Our county commissioners – they’re the ones who establish the funding, through the budget for CYS. They’re the ones who help do the hiring in that department, and they’re the ones who ultimately need to have oversight over that department, so just making sure they’re aware of what’s going on there.”

“If I, as the judge, see things going on in the courtroom with cases that need to be addressed, letting them know this is something you need to look at, and this is something we need to make sure is being addressed. I think keeping those open lines of communication will be one of my jobs.”

As far as her position from the bench, she believes making expectations clear will also be important.

“Laying out that framework and expectations as far as when a case like this comes into the courtroom, here’s what I want to know you did, here are the key things that we need to be addressing in every one of these cases. Just so my expectations as a judge are very clear, this is the information that needs to be exchanged, and I want to make sure all the parties have that and that we can resolve the cases.”

Addressing Technology in Courtroom

Another issue she’d like to see addressed is one of technology in the courtroom.

“We’ve all known it for a long time; there’s been some attempts to kind of address it, but it is really hard to hear in the courtroom,” she noted.

“I think we’re going to have to look at that and try to address that issue one way or another. It’s just hard to hear, it just is. We’re going to have to do something. I worked in other courtrooms where, when you walked in the door you have to put a microphone on, as the attorney, and you have to leave it on the entire time, and you’re reminded you need to talk into the microphone so everyone can hear you, so maybe we need to do something like that.”

While she believes this is an issue that will have to be addressed, she again noted that the final decision will be in the hands of the county commissioners.

“That’ll be something we’ll have to work with the county on and figure out how to create a budget for some of those things that just make sense. But, I think that’s something that’s been on the agenda for the commissioners anyway. They’ve been working, obviously, on some renovations in the courtroom. So hopefully, that’s something I can work with them on and make sure we just address some of those issues.”

Seidle-Patton Ready to Take on New Role

When it comes to her position on the bench, Seidle-Patton says her focus will be on continuing to earn her reputation for honesty, integrity, and fairness, and focusing on each individual case as it comes in front of her.

“I think, to me, it’s just something I find very important, to make sure that there’s not any conflicts of interest, so to speak or even the appearance of them, so something that will certainly be foremost in my mind, all the time, will be to make sure that there aren’t any perceived conflicts and there aren’t any real conflicts.”

“I just have to take it on a case by case basis. It really depends on each and every case that comes before me.”

While she has a lot of work ahead of her, Seidle-Patton said she’s mainly excited to take on her new role.

“I’m excited for the opportunity and I think that it is going to be, I’ll certainly have a learning curve, learning things from that side of the bench instead of standing in front of it, but I’m excited for it, and I think that we’re going to do some good things in Clarion County.”

“I want to thank everyone for putting their faith in me and voting for me. I was a relative newcomer to politics, but I was able to get the message out there and let people know what we had to offer and they responded, and I think that’s going to be a good thing.”


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