CP photo by Ryan Deto
Mik Pappas at his July 13 campaign event in East Liberty
A February article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
portrayed Allegheny County’s Magisterial District Judges as lighthearted peacekeepers that mainly solve neighborhood disputes
. Mik Pappas, a civil-rights lawyer running for judge in the county’s 31 magisterial district, feels this assessment was undervaluing a judge's importance.
“That couldn’t be anything farther from the truth,” says Pappas. “This is an immensely important office. No public elected official sees and interacts with everyday folks on a daily basis more than a district justice. You can’t overstate the importance of this office.”
Pappas, a Highland Park resident who was raised in East Liberty, kicked off his campaign in front of a packed house inside East Liberty Lutheran Church on July 13. He told the crowd of more than 120 that he seeks to reform the way a judge can work within the justice system
for the betterment of those most affected by the system: poor and minority residents of Pittsburgh. His platform
includes increasing access to affordable housing and legal services, disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline and working to lower problems associated with mass incarceration.
“The establishment doesn’t want progressive change in the justice system,” Pappas told the crowd. “For all the changes we have seen in Pittsburgh, we have not yet seen them in the justice system.”
Pappas says these reforms could help vulnerable populations, and could also save taxpayers money by keeping cases out of the justice system that aren’t serious enough to be there. “Judges also have a lot of discretion on how they manage cases,” says Pappas. “ I want to save taxpayers money and take on cases that should be in the system, and not ones that shouldn’t.” He says district judges should be questioning how they decide eviction and truancy decisions, as well as sentencing to drug addicts. Pappas says that too often harsh punishments are doled out on cases like these and that community stability should be considered more.
Pappas currently works as a civil-rights lawyers and has taken on cases defending LGBTQ rights and free speech. He also served six years as policy director for former state Senator Jim Ferlo (D-Highland Park).
Allegheny County’s 31st Magisterial District includes Bloomfield, East Liberty, Highland Park, Stanton Heights, Morningside, Garfield and Upper Lawrenceville. Pappas’ general election opponent is incumbent Ron Costa Jr. (D-Morningside). Pappas, who is running as an independent, has received the endorsement of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America
, a progressive group modeled in the vein of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont).
While he understands that district judges also serve as peacemakers in minor disputes like ones described in the Post-Gazette
article, Pappas thinks judges can do even more to interact with the community.
“I would find a way to be involved while still following the judicial code of ethics and maintaining independence,” says Pappas. “But we need to still be very involved in the community. I think that is what people want and restoring faith in the justice system requires at this point.”
The 2017 general election will be held on November 7 and the last day to register to vote
is October 10.