Risa Ferman and Todd Eisenberg are running for judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Montgomery County.
Pennsylvania is the only state in the country to hold judicial elections in odd-numbered years. This year, in addition to three of the seven seats on the state’s Supreme Court coming up for grabs on Nov. 3 — David Wecht, a member of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community, is seeking one of the seats — Lawrence Abel hopes to become judge of the Court of Common Pleas for Delaware County and Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman and Chairman of the Montgomery County Development Corporation Todd Eisenberg are running for judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Montgomery County.
There are three open seats in both counties. In Delaware County, the candidates are Republicans Margaret Amoroso and state Sen. Dominic Pileggi (District 9) and Democrat G. Lawrence DeMarco. Republican Common Pleas Judge Anthony Scanlon is also running.
In Montgomery County, the other candidates are Democrats Natasha Taylor-Smith and Todd Eisenberg and Dan Clifford, and Republicans Gregory Cirillo and Stephen Heckman. Abel, who has been a lawyer for more than three decades, refers to himself as a “nomadic Jew,” because of the numerous places he has lived.
“People ask me where I grew up and the best answer I can give is a nomadic family,” he said.
Abel, 59, lived in Michigan, Oregon, Vermont and Nebraska and moved to Delaware County in 1985, immediately getting involved in the Jewish community. He served for several years as men’s club president and director of his synagogue, Suburban Jewish Community Center-Bnai Aaron in Havertown, serving as its president from 2002 to 2004. In 2010, the shul closed and merged with Temple Adath Israel in Merion Station.
Not only was SJCC meaningful, but it was also where he and his wife Seyna raised their daughters, Jessica, 28, Dori, 25 and Nora, 18.
“It was a crushing blow when the old synagogue closed,” he said.
He is a member of the board of directors of Adath Israel and serves on the executive committee of the regional organization of Conservative Jewish congregations.
After living in small towns throughout the country with very few Jews, he said it was important to raise his family in the large vibrant Jewish community of Philadelphia. His daughter Nora attended Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr.
Abel graduated from University of Michigan Law School in 1982 and then clerked for John Feikens, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
“I’ve always thought in the back of my mind, ever since then, I would make a good judge,” Abel said.
Clerking for Feikens made an impact on his life. It was a very hands-on experience and helped prepare him for the courtroom.
He has a wide range of courtroom experience as a trial lawyer for the past 30 years in state and federal court. Abel, who is an attorney with Avallone Law Associates in Center City, concentrates on serving clients in domestic relations, consumer bankruptcy, probate and general civil and criminal litigation. He is also an active member of the executive committee of the family law section of the bar association in Philadelphia.
After speaking to the Democratic Party chairman of Delaware County, David Landau, Abel realized it was the perfect time to run. Although it is typically a Republican county, the demographics have changed recently — in 2013, 48 percent of the population voted Democrat.
“I need the support of the Democrats in the area,” he said. “I’ve been in the trenches. I’ve talked to kids on many occasions who were involved in disputes between parents.”
After being elected the first female district attorney in the history of Montgomery County in 2007, Ferman is also ready for her next challenge. Under her leadership, the district attorney’s office has achieved a 98 percent conviction rate — one of the strongest records in Pennsylvania.
“After all that time I felt I could take that knowledge and put it to use in a different venue,” Ferman, who has worked in the Montgomery County prosecutor’s office for 23 years, said. “I am ready to undertake a new challenge. I knew I wasn’t done in public service. I was looking for a place I could make the biggest impact.”
Ferman’s work ethic dates back to her parents, Barbara and Sal Vetri, who were her mentors. Her father ran a jewelry store for 26 years and her mother was a lawyer for more than 50 years.
Ferman, a lifelong Abington native, said being involved in the Jewish community was also something her parents instilled in her. She sent her three children, Jenna, 21, Ben, 19 and Jake, 17, to Perelman Jewish Day School in Wynnewood.
Her family joined Beth Sholom Congregation of Elkins Park 20 years ago and today, her husband Michael serves on its board; the shul has become a second home.
“Our community is incredibly close-knit,” she said. “For us, that’s what makes Southeast Pennsylvania so special because we’re not just immersed in the town we live in, but our Jewish community.”
As a prosecutor, she created a positive change in society with an innovative approach, she said.
She established the Elder Abuse Unit to target criminals who prey upon senior citizens. She was the driving force behind the creation of Mission Kids, a child advocacy center, designed to ease the criminal justice process for victims of child abuse. She was also the co-founder of the Montgomery County Child Advocacy Project, which provides pro bono legal services to abused and neglected children.
One major challenge in today’s justice system is the disconnect between judges and the community, Ferman said. It’s important that people understand what judges do, she stressed.
“I’m looking forward to being able to serve our community and help people find a way through the justice system,” Ferman said. “We need people on the bench who can make decisions and resolve disputes. If the public doesn’t understand what judges do, it kind of undermines their credibility.”
Eisenebrg, 43, who lives in Huntingdon Valley with his wife Elana and sons William and Benjy, has been involved in the Jewish community since a young age. He went to Forman Hebrew Day School, which was located at Beth Sholom in Elkins Park and Akiba Hebrew Academy, which is now Barrack. His grandfather, William Eisenberg was a rabbi at Tikva Chadosah in the Oak Lane section of Philadelphia, which was a shul made up of mainly Holocaust survivors.
He grew up in Abington and Cheltenham with his father, where his father Burton and his grandparents Rabbi William and Lena Eisenberg instilled the importance of Jewish values, including justice, tzedakah and tikkun olam. His family attends services at Chabad of Abington and recently joined Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glenn. Benjy is also a student at Perelman Jewish Day School in Wynnewood.
“Studying Jewish laws and texts at Akiba taught me the importance of law and how important fair and impartial judges are,” Eisenberg said.
His legal career began in 1998 at the Defender Association of Philadelphia and for the past six years, has had land use zoning and municipal experience.
“Every time I go into a courtroom I want my client to be treated fairly and with respect,” Eisenberg said. “I have not always had that. I always thought if I have the opportunity to run I would take it to ensure that everyone that comes into my court room is treated fairly and with respect.”
Eisenberg is lead claims counsel for Peco Energy Company, handling a significant portion of the company's civil litigation. He formerly was solicitor for several townships and boroughs, and operated his own law practice, Law Offices of Todd Eisenberg from 2002 to 2006, handling criminal, personal injury and family law matters.
He is an instructor in trial advocacy for Temple University and the National Institute of Trial Advocacy. He volunteers for the Montgomery County Child Advocacy Project, representing children in PFA hearings, dependency matters and as a witness in criminal cases.
“My goal if elected is to make sure everyone that comes before me is treated fairly and with respect,” he said. “The system is set up to be fair, but it does not always work that way.”
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