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Judge Skerda offers Woman’s Club ‘One Woman’s Perspective on Justice’

Photo submitted to Times Observer Judge Maureen Skerda.

Judge Maureen A. Skerda, the first female judge for the 37th Judicial District of Pennsylvania, addressed members of the Woman’s Club of Warren on February 3.

Noting that Women’s History Month is less than a month away, Judge Skerda prefaced her remarks with a brief history of the role of women in the Pennsylvania judiciary.

In 1930, Sara M. Soffel was appointed judge in Allegheny County. Despite the fact that she had graduated at the top of her law school class, no law firm of that day would hire her. Gov. John Fisher appointed her to the court. She later ran for election, and served until 1962.

Juanita Kidd Stout was the first African-American judge in Pennsylvania, having been appointed to municipal court in Philadelphia in 1959; she later won election.

Genevieve Blatt was the first woman to serve as judge in Commonwealth Court (1972), and Doris Smith-Ribner the first African-American woman to be elected to Commonwealth Court, in 1988.

In 1961, Anne Alpern was the first woman appointed as a Justice of the Supreme Court of PA. Sandra Schultz Newman was the first female elected to the PA Supreme Court, in 1995.

Judge Skerda then moved on to the topic of the Court Improvement Project, and how it has changed justice in Warren County. In 2010, Treatment Court was introduced, which provides non-violent offenders suffering from drug and/or alcohol addiction with intermediate punishment instead of jail time. Offenders must accept weekly monitoring, attend counseling and recovery meetings, and try to find employment. Judge Skerda explained that all this “permits people the opportunity to change.”

She noted that the rate of recidivism from this program is 19%, much lower than conventional punishment involving incarceration. She explained that participants want to work, and the majority find jobs.

The program also has drastically reduced the number of babies born addicted to drugs. It has proven less successful with alcohol addiction. Judge Skerda theorized this might be due to the fact that alcohol is legal and accepted in society.

Originating in Warren County, Treatment Court was at first experimental, but has grown “exponentially” in PA in 7-10 years and is now statewide. Judge Skerda said she is “glad the rest of PA has caught up with Warren County.”

Judge Skerda closed her remarks with a brief discussion of foster care in the Commonwealth.

Today, children are asked whom they recognize as kin, and every effort is made to place the children with those people, including making grants available to foster families.

Following a question-and-answer period, members adjourned for a luncheon hosted by Marcy O’Brien and Ann Ferguson, who decorated the tables with a Valentine theme. President Ruth Barnes-Shaw thanked both Judge Skerda and the hostesses for their contributions to the event. She noted that the club’s annual “Useable Discards” sale will be held March 6 and 7. The “Step Into Spring” artisan bazaar is scheduled for April 4.

The next meeting will be February 17, with Leigh Rovegno, president of the Audubon Community Nature Center, scheduled to speak on “The Nature of Play.”

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