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Judge Kistler 'Honored' by Nomination to Pa. Supreme Court, Regrets Having to Leave Centre County

by on February 05, 2015 11:51 AM

Centre County President Judge Thomas Kistler got a phone call on Wednesday that was both anticipated and unexpected.

When his cell phone rang, he didn’t expect to hear Governor Tom Wolf on the other end of the line, telling him that he was officially nominated to fill a vacant seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. But that’s exactly what happened.

“I was already thrilled to know that I’d been considered to serve on our highest court,” Kistler says. “But to have not only been considered, and to have actually been nominated, is very rewarding.”

Kistler says he had known he was being considered for months, after Pennsylvania State Senator Jake Corman (R – Centre County) reached out to him near the end of last year. Corman and other members of the senate were trying to put together a package of potential nominees for Gov. Wolf to accept, and Kistler was the judge selected by the senate Republicans.

“As a lifelong member of Centre County, he has been dedicated to improving our community through his active involvement in local organizations especially those that benefit children and families,” Corman says in a prepared statement. “He will be a welcome addition to the Supreme Court.”

Pending further approvals, Kistler will be joined on the Supreme Court bench by Democratic nominee and law professor Ken Gormley of Pittsburgh.

Governor Tom Wolf says in a statement that he was pleased to announce the nominations of “two extremely qualified and distinguished individuals… who I believe will execute their duties with the highest standard of ethics and judicial temperament.”

Kistler says his nomination must still be approved by a two-thirds majority vote in the senate before his position becomes official. Though he refers to the opportunity as “a great honor,” he says it’s also a little bittersweet.

Kistler recalls beginning his career as a Centre County judge on Jan. 1, 1998. Thirteen years of hard work later, Kistler rose to his current position as head judge in the Centre County courts system.

“I enjoy every day of my job here,” he says. “I’m going miss not only the people, but the work too.”

Kistler’s position on the supreme court will deal with appeals from lower courts, meaning he will spend most of his time reading legal filings and briefs from cases fought in court months before. 

In his current position, Kistler actually gets to meet and interact with the people that come through his Centre County courtroom. He says he’ll miss “being a direct part of helping people find solutions to their problems."

There’s another factor that inspires mixed emotions in the judge: the position on the supreme court is temporary, and will expire on Dec. 31, 2015. Kistler will only be filling a temporary vacancy due to a retirement, and will be replaced by whomever wins the election to his position.

“I don’t know what will happen at that point. I won’t be a Centre County Judge and I won’t be a Supreme Court Justice, so I’ll have to find something to do,” Kistler says. “Hopefully I can help some county court or return to Centre County in some capacity, but I don’t know yet. I’m confident there will be a positive resolution, no matter what happens.”

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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for StateCollege.com who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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