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Pittsburgh attorney Jill Beck takes a run at statewide Superior Court post

Courtesy of the campaign
Courtesy of the campaign

It’s not unusual for statewide judicial races to attract little interest from voters. But so far, there has been only limited public interest shown even by candidates for races next year. 

Take Superior Court, the statewide appellate court that handles appeals in civil and criminal matters decided at the Common Pleas level. Voters will have to fill two vacancies on the 15-member panel. And yet only one candidate in either major party appears to be campaigning publicly for the job so far: Pittsburgh attorney and Democrat Jill Beck. 

“I like to call myself a reluctant politician,” said Beck. “But it’s the job I want to do.” 

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In one sense, the Duquesne University law school graduate has served in Superior Court before: She clerked for Judge Christine Donahue, who brought Beck with her when she became a Supreme Court Justice.

“I learned everything about that court working with her,” said Beck, whose work as a clerk lasted nearly a decade and involved such tasks as assisting with draft opinions and conducting legal research. “I’ve done everything from death penalties down to DUIs.” 

But Beck has worked on behalf of clients as well, with a special focus on abused and neglected children she represented through advocacy group KidsVoice. An attorney at the firm of Blank Rome, she’s been active in pro bono cases for LGBT clients and others often underserved by the justice system. She said that work will ground her approach to cases that come before her.

“I’ve been in that court … so I really know the law,” she said. “The other part, though, is I know the human aspect of these cases. I have dedicated my career to representing vulnerable and underserved populations.” And she said that her experience — both in how the law is written and how it is applied — gives her “a working knowledge of how those tools are used, and how I can use them to better and improve the law of the commonwealth.” 

Superior Court mostly applies legal precedents, rather than establishing them – a role typically played far more often at the Supreme Court level. But it sometimes does handle “cases of first impression,” which address novel legal arguments. And Beck says that more broadly, “I take very seriously the role of the judiciary in reviewing statutes for constitutionality, ensuring that individual rights are protected [and] the law is applied equally and equitably across the population.”

Beck ran for a Superior Court position in 2021 but lost in the Democratic primary to Timika Lane (who was in turn defeated that fall by Republican Megan Sullivan). But Beck, like the other candidates running that year, was rated as “recommended” by the Pennsylvania Bar Association, which reviewed her as “intelligent [and] focused” and said she “displays the judicial temperament of patience, courtesy, impartiality and even temper.” 

Beck finished that race with over $104,000 in the bank (though she had loaned $80,000 of that to herself). She has already begun to garner public support from Democratic office holders, including Pittsburgh-area state Senator Jay Costa, who leads Democrats in the legislature’s upper chamber. 

“I’m working hard and will continue to work hard to be out there to meet as many people as possible, to talk to as many as possible,” she said. “I tell everyone: Be careful where you invite me. I will try to show up.”

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.