GANT News conducted a questionnaire with the three candidates for the office of Magisterial District Judge, 46-3-02, in Clearfield County. Two of the three candidates responded to GANT’s questionnaire under deadline.
Warren B. Mikesell II, a local attorney, is seeking election, and below are his responses to a series of 10 questions.
- Provide a brief biography and background.
I, Warren B. Mikesell, II, candidate for Magisterial District Judge for District 46-3-02, offer the following responses, knowing that in the mind of an attorney a 10,000-word document will nonetheless be called a brief.
I joined the firm of Mikesell and Mikesell with my father, Donald R. Mikesell, in 1991 after being admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar.
I was born the second son of Donald R. Mikesell (originally from Mahaffey) and Anne E. (Blackburn) Mikesell (originally from Curwensville) and was raised in Clearfield with my siblings, Jon Mikesell, Annette Mikesell, Kim Mikesell Colavecchi, Robert (Bob) Mikesell and Janell Mikesell Danielson.
After graduating from the Clearfield Senior High School in 1977, I joined and served in the U.S. Navy from September of 1977 until January of 1985 (or seven years and four months in active duty service).
After the U.S. Navy, I immediately enrolled in Grove City College in Grove City, where I completed my undergraduate degrees in 1988 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration and economics. I then attended The Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle, and graduated therefrom in 1991 with a Juris Doctorate degree.
While in law school, I served as a Legislative Legal Intern for the Honorable Senator Robert Jubelirer, President Pro Tempore of the Pennsylvania Senate from May of 1989 until June of 1991. My duties as a Legislative Legal Intern included drafting legislation, researching legal issues affecting proposed legislative statutes, laws and regulations and attending Senate and House hearings on various legal issues.
My legal practice includes 25 years of working as a general practitioner in various fields of law as well as both an assistant district attorney (currently serving for past 10 years) and assistant public defender.
I currently serve as an assistant district attorney of Clearfield County under District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr., Esq. and have also maintained a separate private attorney practice since 1991.
Clients have been provided legal services in various areas including, but not limited to: Estate Planning; Wills, Estates (Probate); Trusts; Personal Injury; Wrongful Death; Divorce; Custody; Family Law; Adoption; Real Estate (Deed transfers, boundary disputes, residential/commercial leases); Title Searches; Mortgages and Refinance Loans; and Coal, Oil and Gas Leases.
- 25 years as a practicing attorney in both criminal and civil law.
- A total of 15 years in the DA’s office.
- Also have been a private defense attorney and part-time assistant public defender for 10 years.
- Average caseload of preliminary hearings annually: over 250 cases per year.
- Criminal Jury Trials: Average at least six per year.
Over past 25 years:
- Over 6,000 criminal cases
- Over 125 jury trials.
I have been married to Kimberly L. (Witters) Mikesell since 2001. Kim is the daughter of Bruce K. Witters and Patricia L. Witters (both deceased). She worked for J.C. Penney’s for 30 years before retiring in 2011. Upon retirement from J.C. Penney’s, she then assumed the duties of legal secretary at my law firm.
I have three children to a prior marriage and namely Warren B. Mikesell III (of Clearfield), Breann K. Mikesell Kipple and her husband, Adam Kipple (of Myrtle Beach, SC) and Michael Thomas Mikesell (deceased).
We have three wonderful and cherished grandchildren and namely, Willoe Ann Mikesell (of Clearfield) and Jackson Alan Kipple and James Andrew Kipple (both of Myrtle Beach, SC).
I am a member of the Clearfield Masonic Lodge No. 314. I serve as the solicitor for the P.B. Zentmyer Trust–a charitable trust established for the benefit of children in need of medical treatment for orthopedic type problems.
I also serve as a director on the Clearfield County Charitable Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation, serving the charitable needs of Clearfield County by investing funds of donors for the benefit of Clearfield County.
All of the directors of the CCCF donate their time and experience for the benefit of the charitable organization. They do not accept a fee or salary.
Memberships also include Clearfield Bar Association, PA Bar Association, Old Town Sportsman’s Club, Mosquito Creek Sportsman’s Association, American Legion Post No. 6, VFW Post No. 1785 and the NRA.
My wife and I currently attend the Community Baptist Church of Curwensville. I have a strong belief in God and, as such, my faith is and will always be a controlling factor in my life’s decisions.
2. Why did you choose to run for magisterial District Judge?
As a man of faith, I would be remiss if I did not say that God is and has always been a factor in decisions I have made regarding my life, including decisions regarding my profession.
The decision to run for Magisterial District Judge is no different. I had prayed about this matter and was convicted to run this race. I would also have to say that I have always admired the position of Magisterial District Judge.
Having served this community as an assistant district attorney over the past 10 years, I work directly with all of the Magisterial District Judges of the County.
I have also practiced in front of the county Magisterial District Judges on a weekly basis for 25 years while serving as either a private defense attorney and or an assistant public defender or assistant district attorney.
During my 25-year legal career, I have served as an assistant district attorney for a total of 15 years, having served as a full-time assistant district attorney under the then district attorney and now Honorable Fredric J. Ammerman, while maintaining my private practice with my father, Donald R. Mikesell, on nights and weekends; then under district attorney and now the Honorable Paul E. Cherry as a part-time assistant; and currently as a part-time assistant district attorney under William A. Shaw Jr.
Ten years of my practice has been as a private defense attorney and or assistant public defender.
Working directly in the legal system with Magisterial District Judges has allowed me to see how and what they do and how their decisions affect our local community.
I want to serve the people and voters of this community and use my expertise and experience to continue the continuity of experience and performance in the office.
Magisterial District Judge Richard Ireland was elected to the position roughly 24 years ago, having also previously served this community as an assistant district attorney, assistant public defender and a private defense attorney.
He, too, also maintained a civil law practice. These qualities and experiences have no doubt served this community well for almost 24 years.
I believe my 25 years of legal knowledge and experience can also benefit all of the members of this community and judicial district.
- What qualifies you to hold the office of Magisterial District Judge?
Clearly, 25 years of practicing law in the legal field more than qualifies me for this position. Serving for 15 years as an assistant district attorney and 10 years as either a private defense attorney and or assistant public defender on a weekly basis, directly in front of Magisterial District Judges, has given me the practical knowledge and experience to move to the bench and serve as a Magisterial District Judge.
I handle on average 250 preliminary hearings in criminal matters before a Magisterial District Judge every year. Over my 25- year career, I have handled more than 6,000 cases. When I say I have handled more than 6,000 cases in my career, it means I have personally read each criminal complaint and supporting affidavit of probable cause that was filed in the appropriate Magisterial District.
In law school, I had a contracts professor who often told our class that to be the best attorney possible we needed to know our opponent’s case better than our own. I have always adopted this philosophy in analyzing civil and criminal cases I was and am dealing with even today.
For me, this has become extremely easy since I have worked multiple years as both a prosecutor and defense attorney (15 years and 10 years, respectively). No matter what side of a case I was/am on, I was/am always able to anticipate where my opponent was or will be going to attack my case.
As a Magisterial District Judge, I know both sides of a criminal case, because I have done both jobs. As a Magisterial District Judge, it is my job to rule on cases in a fair and impartial matter. I will use my experience and expertise to analyze the facts and apply the appropriate law and determine if the moving party has met its burden.
In a criminal case, that burden always lies with the prosecution. Since I have been a prosecutor 15 years of my legal career, I know the burden for every case that would come before me. In civil cases, the burden switches to the Plaintiff filing the case. I have been handling civil cases for 25 years in my private practice.
Keep in mind, in a civil case, the Magisterial District Judge is the “judge, jury and executioner.” He or she has to decide what the lawful facts in the case are, rule on issues of admissibility of evidence, decide the weight that is to be given to that evidence and then apply the appropriate law in the case and render a verdict. I have been doing that for 25 years as both a criminal attorney as well as a civil attorney.
Moreover, for more than 20 years, I have served as the primary Protection from Abuse Hearing Officer (PFA) in Clearfield County. As the PFA Hearing Officer, I handle on average three cases each week with an average of at least one case going to a full hearing.
In other words, I have been conducting hearings, considering evidence, ruling on evidentiary issues, applying the law and making a decision on a weekly basis for more than 20 years.
Every case that has or would come before me starts with a score of 0-0. Nobody has an advantage. My evaluation of the evidence will be from all points of view based upon my knowledge and experience over 25 years of practicing law in Clearfield County.
- What is the most important aspect of this position, and how can you ensure you meet all the requirements?
I believe serving the people of Magisterial District 46-3-02 (which encompasses Lawrence Township, Pike Township, Clearfield Borough and Curwensville Borough) in a fair and impartial manner is the most important aspect of this position.
I will use my 25 years of experience as a practicing attorney – together with my knowledge of the law – to meet all the requirements of a Magisterial District Judge in serving the people of this Magisterial District.
My decisions will be made only based upon the facts and the appropriate law with knowledge of which party carries the burden of proof. My job as a Magisterial District Judge will be to interpret and apply the law, not to legislate from the bench.
No decision will be made based upon race, gender, sexual preference, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, marital status, socioeconomic status or political affiliation. Every case that comes before me will start out equal. No party or side of a case, whether civil or criminal, will start out or have an advantage.
- What do you think makes you the better candidate for Magisterial District Judge in Clearfield County?
See my response to Question No. 3 above.
In addition to my qualifications and experience listed above, I would add that my seven years and four months active duty in the U.S. Navy together with my operation of a private law office for 25 years will also assist me in the duties of a Magisterial District Judge.
A Magisterial District Judge does more than render or make legal decisions. He has to run and operate a district judicial office with personnel under his or her supervision.
Running an office is nothing new to me since I have been doing just that for more than 30 years. In the U.S. Navy, I was a Personnelman First Class Petty Officer (that is an E-6 for those familiar with other branches of service pay-grades).
There, my duties included operating and being in charge of several offices with several personnel under my command as a supervisor. My life-long experiences have given me a great familiarity with personnel issues and problems and how to manage an office; I have been doing just that since I was in my early 20’s.
I might add that for the citizens of Lawrence Township, Pike Township, Clearfield Borough and Curwensville Borough, neither of my opponents’ qualifications nor experience matches mine.
Michael Morris, Clearfield County Coroner, is a nice guy. In fact, he signed my petition to become a Magisterial District Judge. You do not select or elect a person to become the Magisterial District Judge for your judicial district because somebody is a nice guy.
His experience in the legal system is pretty much one-sided and from the perspective of an arresting police officer. He has never conducted a hearing, although I am certain he has participated in several during the course of his career. He has never made a ruling on whether evidence is admissible or not.
Clearly, anybody who is over the age of 18 years and under the age of 75 years in Pennsylvania can run and serve as Magisterial District Judge; however, they are required to complete a one-month course conducted by the Minor Judiciary in Harrisburg, and they must take and pass an extensive judicial exam.
Failure to do so would mean the said candidate could not take office. Attorneys, by virtue of four years of college and three years of law school coupled with passing the Pennsylvania Bar exam, are automatically qualified.
My opponent Adrian Peters-Sipes is an attorney. She is, therefore, qualified. Her experience, on the other hand is limited. She may have participated in a couple jury trials in her career and has participated in several hearings, but her record falls short of mine.
Again, I have been involved in more than 100 criminal jury trials in the past 25 years as a prosecutor and or defense attorney. I have participated in or handled approximately 250 preliminary hearings a year for the past 10 years as a prosecutor and have participated in or handled more than 6,000 cases in my career.
In addition, I have served as the PFA Hearing Officer for over 20 years, conducting an average of three cases per week, with an average of one, full evidentiary hearing each week.
Add to all of this my service as a Legislative Legal Intern for the Honorable Senator Robert Jubelirer, President Pro Tempore of the Pennsylvania Senate from May of 1989 until June of 1991.
My duties as a Legislative Legal Intern included drafting legislation, researching legal issues affecting proposed legislative statutes, laws and regulations and attending Senate and House hearings on various legal issues.
All of this combined, I believe, makes me the MOST qualified and MOST experienced candidate for Magisterial District Judge for the citizens of Lawrence Township, Pike Township, Clearfield Borough and Curwensville Borough.
- If you are elected, what would you make your priority in the upcoming term of office?
Again, serving the people of Magisterial District 46-3-02 (which encompasses Lawrence Township, Pike Township, Clearfield Borough and Curwensville Borough) in a fair and impartial manner is the most important aspect of this position.
Serving the people of this judicial district in a professional manner would be my priority while maintaining the quality of service this community has come to expect for the past 23 years.
I will use my 25 years of experience as a practicing attorney – together with my knowledge of the law – to meet all the requirements of a Magisterial District Judge in serving the people of this Magisterial District.
My decisions will be made only based upon the facts and the appropriate law with knowledge of which party carries the burden of proof.
My job, as a Magisterial District Judge, will be to interpret and apply the law, not to legislate from the bench. No decision will be made based upon race, gender, sexual preference, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, marital status, socioeconomic status or political affiliation. Every case that comes before me will start out equal. No party or side of a case, whether civil or criminal, will start out or have an advantage.
My dad always said, if it’s not broke, don’t mess with it. There is nothing broke in Magisterial District 46-3-02. Magisterial District Judge Richard Ireland has been doing a good job for almost 24 years.
His prior legal experience certainly has assisted him in doing the job for the members of this community. I wish to continue the same quality of performance as he has provided in serving the people of Magisterial District 46-3-02 (which encompasses Lawrence Township, Pike Township, Clearfield Borough and Curwensville Borough) in a fair and impartial manner.
The job of a Magisterial District Judge is NOT to legislate from the bench. It is to process each and every case filed by police in the district, whether criminal or civil, as well as the cases filed by individuals and businesses in the district. My 25 years as a practicing attorney will assist me in serving the members of this legal district (46-3-02).
- What is the greatest challenge facing the office of Magisterial District Judge in Clearfield County? How would you overcome it?
After practicing law as a prosecutor and defense attorney for 25 years, I guess the biggest challenge I can see facing the Magisterial District Judge office (in Lawrence Township, Pike Township, Clearfield Borough and Curwensville Borough) would be the ever flowing tide of criminal cases being filed that no doubt stems from the drug problems clearly evident in Clearfield County as a whole.
Overcoming the same is nothing the position of Magisterial District Judge, itself, can do. The office merely has to be prepared to accept and process the criminal complaints filed and keep the process running smoothly as it has been.
Most importantly, we must be prepared to assist the citizens of this judicial district in every way possible to ensure that the degree of professionalism and quality of service is maintained in a timely manner.
The other area that is ever changing in the court system, as a whole, is the changes in technology. I am prepared to not only maintain the current system but provide necessary critique and suggestions, as they crop up, to appropriate departments in the judicial system to ensure that, once again, our work here in Clearfield County will serve the citizens of this judicial district in a professional manner and provide quality service to our citizens in a timely manner.
- If you are elected, what plans do you have to develop relationships with local law enforcement, court officials and attorneys?
Again, my experience and practice of law (both civil and criminal) in Clearfield for more than 25 years has already allowed me to develop professional relationships with all of the local law enforcement officers, court officials and attorneys working within as well as outside the judicial district I am seeking.
My professional relationships with these essential personnel extend county-wide. It is not limited to the judicial district for which I am running. Relationships with personnel outside this judicial district (i.e. local law enforcement, court officials and attorneys) will aid me in the performance of my duties as a Magisterial District Judge when I am serving as the magistrate on duty every month.
I will continue to maintain those relationships as well as develop ones with new personnel who come in contact with the judicial office. As the most senior assistant district attorney, I have assumed the responsibility of aiding and training new ADA’s over the years.
I sit in on hearings and guide and assist them in the performance of their duties and provide constructive critiques of what they can do to assist them in the future. I have done the same with police officers, as well, insofar as their court filings are concerned.
That is why officers (experienced and new) come to me and seek out my knowledge and experience during the course of their duties. Also, I have throughout my career taken the opportunity to assist new attorneys, even on the other side of a case.
Life is a learning process, and the practice of law is no exception. As a Magisterial District Judge, I would take every opportunity possible to speak with police officers, attorneys (both defense and prosecution) and court officials and attempt to educate them on areas that can be improved and give them the appropriate affirmation of doing a good job in those areas that they have succeeded. Of course, I am more than willing to sit down and discuss various areas of the process and be educated myself.
- If you are elected, how would you be proactive and set an example within the communities you serve?
This, by far, is the toughest question to answer in this series. The reason is simple. The Pennsylvania Rules for Magisterial District Judges are very strict and actually prohibit certain conduct and affiliations of Magisterial District Judges.
In particular, Rule 3.7 deals with the Participation in Educational, Religious, Charitable, Fraternal or Civic Organizations and Activities.
So how does one be proactive in the community yet not violate the rules of conduct for a Magisterial District Judge? Obviously, the rules are in place to aid and assist the Magisterial District Judges in conducting their official duties as a fair and impartial judge in proceedings before them.
Every time a Magisterial District Judge participates in any community activities, he or she must be cognizant of the participants of those activities or organizations and question whether there is a likelihood that a member or participant would somehow come before him in the capacity of a Magisterial District Judge such that a recusal would be necessary.
As a human being and citizen of this judicial district, I am concerned about the youth of this area, both within and outside of the judicial district. I am concerned about the ongoing drug problem Clearfield County, as a whole, is facing.
There is a need for educational programs that could reach the youth. It would be nice to see the development of a program that can be taught in the school systems of this area that give the youth an idea of how the criminal justice system works and how that can impact them in their futures.
Any such program should address the ever present abuse that victims (mostly women) face from their attackers who are more times than not a loved one, family member or intimate partner.
Having had the responsibility of being a Protection from Abuse Hearing Officer in Clearfield County for more than 20 years, I have seen and heard of the abuse that goes on within our community.
I have seen the photographs of the victims. The bruises they wear on their faces and bodies are not badges of honor. They did not deserve to go through not only the physical pain but the emotional pain that lingers much longer than the bruise itself.
Our youth (and adults) need to be aware that beating a person is not acceptable in a civilized society and that there are consequences for doing the same, but more importantly, that the recipient of the abuse did not deserve it and that there are agencies and people out in our community willing to assist.
All victims need to do is reach out. First, they need to know there is someone out there to reach out to. As a Magisterial District Judge I would like to have the opportunity to speak with our youth of this community.
My hope and prayer would be that, through education, we can continue to break the cycle of abuse before it starts, and if it should occur, that victims need to know they can come forward and they will not be shamed nor looked down upon for what they have been put through. They will be lifted up and assisted.
- What would you like voters to consider before they make their final choice for Magisterial District Judge?
Clearly, I would like the voters of the judicial district to consider the qualifications and experience of the candidates. That is what I have always done in my personal life when deciding which candidate to vote for in an election.
Voters should consider: what if it is me, my spouse, my child or grandchild who somehow finds themself before a Magisterial District Judge. Who do I want on the bench?
Do I want someone “who is qualified” or do I want the “most qualified” person making the decision?
Do I want somebody who has a minimum amount of experience in the field of expertise that a Magisterial District Judge will be utilizing to make a decision?
Do I want somebody who has taken a one-month course and passed an exam or do I want somebody who has three years of law school and 25 years of experience practicing law both in the civil and criminal arena?
Do I want somebody who has read, analyzed and processed more than 6,000 cases on both the defense and prosecution side of a criminal case? Do I want somebody who has conducted and prosecuted more than 100 jury trials?
Do I want somebody who has been a Protection from Abuse Hearing Officer for more than 20 years and hears an average of three cases every week?
Do I want somebody who has been handling civil law issues for more than 25 years or one who has never analyzed a contract?
Do I want somebody who has experience in determining what evidence should be considered in making a decision as to whether up to $12,000 of your hard-earned money can be legally taken away?
I trust that the voters of this judicial district (Lawrence Township, Pike Township, Clearfield Borough and Curwensville Borough) will know in their hearts that their vote should not be just based upon friendship, professional association or because the candidate is a nice guy, or that they know the candidate’s family member(s).
Their vote should be based upon the candidate who can do the best job for this judicial district. The candidate who is the most qualified and most experienced candidate.
I, Warren B. Mikesell II, believe I am the MOST qualified and the MOST experienced candidate for Magisterial District Judge for Lawrence Township, Pike Township, Clearfield Borough and Curwensville Borough.
I will use my years of experience and knowledge as a U.S. Navy veteran, as a Legal Intern in the Senate of Pennsylvania, as an assistant district attorney, an assistant public defender and private defense attorney, my experience as a 25-year practicing attorney in civil law and most importantly my belief and faith in God in making all decisions that come before me as a Magisterial District Judge.
I want to see that the continuity of experience and professionalism continues in this judicial district upon the retirement of Magisterial District Judge Richard Ireland.