Successful Luzerne County judicial candidate William Amesbury is greeted by supporters at the Barney Inn in Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday night.PETE G. WILCOX/THE TIMES LEADER
Tina Polachek Gartley greets supporters celebrating her win for a county judicial seat.AIMEE DILGER/THE TIMES LEADER
Richard Hughes hugs one of his supporters after he lost in his bid for the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas.FRED ADAMS/THE TIMES LEADER
WILKES-BARRE – Democrats William Amesbury and Tina Polachek Gartley on Tuesday won seats on the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas, leaving Republican challenger Richard Hughes as the odd man out.
Amesbury, 61, of Wilkes-Barre, and Gartley, 43, of Plains Township, will join the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas in January. With the two additions, the county court will have seven judges and three openings.
According to unofficial results, Amesbury was the top vote-getter with 38,647 votes. Gartley followed with 36,746, and Hughes garnered 31,342.
Amesbury and Gartley will join judges Hugh Mundy, David Lupas, Joseph Augello, Michael Toole and Thomas Burke Jr. on the bench in January. The seat of former Judge Mark Ciavarella remains open and Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. failed in his bid for retention. The seat of former Judge Ann Lokuta remains open as she appeals her dismissal in the state appellate courts.
Amesbury and Gartley will fill the seats of President Judge Chester Muroski, who reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70 in December, and Judge Joseph Musto, who filled the unexpired term of former Judge Michael Conahan.
Gov. Ed Rendell can make appointments to fill the remaining vacancies and the state Senate must confirm them.
“I am extremely happy and extremely exhausted,” Amesbury said before speaking to an overflow crowd of supporters at the Barney Inn in Wilkes-Barre. “I want to extend my deepest appreciation to the voters and to the people who supported me throughout this campaign. We all ran a wonderful campaign, and I think we set a statewide standard for civility in judicial campaigns.”
Amesbury said this election starts the process of returning integrity and public trust to the county judiciary that was shaken by the corruption scandal that led to two former judges facing federal charges.
“We are going to go in and day by day render impartial decisions,” Amesbury said. “Transparency and openness will return to the Luzerne County court system.”
Gartley spoke over the cheers of hundreds of supporters at Furia Restaurant in Jenkins Township.
“I want to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart,” she said. “This has been an incredible journey. I am humbled and thankful, and I look forward to helping to turn around the county.”
Gartley’s campaign centered on a message of change and diversity; her slogan was “The change we need – the justice we deserve.”
“I think people looked at the work I’ve done and the voice I will bring to the bench,” she said.
Hughes, 48, of Fairview Township, expressed disappointment in defeat, but was quick to praise his opponents for a fine campaign and to wish them well.
“I really don’t feel like I lost, because I’ve gained so much from this experience,” Hughes said before he addressed his supporters at the Pierce Street Deli in Kingston. “I truly feel that Luzerne County is headed in the right direction. I think (Amesbury) and (Gartley) will be great judges.
“Somebody will analyze the numbers, but I did receive some 28,000 votes,” Hughes said before the final totals were in. “Democrats hold a 2-to-1 registration edge, so obviously I received a lot of Democratic votes. But I think it’s most important that we move forward and get on the road to bringing our county back.”
The county total of registered voters stands at about 191,041. The breakdown: 113,015 Democrats, 61,889 Republicans and 16,137 third parties.
Amesbury, Gartley and Hughes emerged from the May primary that saw a field of 17 candidates cross-filed on the Democratic and Republican ballots.
Amesbury said he plans to reach out to the public to explain the role of the judiciary and he will keep an open door policy in his office.
“I’ve been all around Luzerne County during the campaign – from Avoca to Sweet Valley to Hazleton to Wilkes-Barre Township – and I have enjoyed meeting people and listening to their concerns,” Amesbury said. “I welcome this new challenge ahead.”