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Lunsford Announces Reelection Campaign in Midst of Growing Judicial Turmoil

by on June 24, 2015 6:00 AM

A judge caught in the crossfire of growing unrest in the Centre County Courthouse is seeking another 10 year term on the bench.

Longtime Centre County Court of Common Pleas Judge Bradley Lunsford announced his retention campaign in a news release on Tuesday, pledging to “fight to restore the Centre County court system to ensure its unwavering commitment to fair and balanced justice for all.”

This announcement comes at a time of intense conflict in the Centre County judicial system. Lunsford is currently barred from hearing criminal cases, and two other judges and the district attorney are suing the county.

Lunsford has worked in law for more than 25 years, and has served as a judge in Centre County for more than a decade. In addition to convicting and sentencing numerous criminals during his tenure, Lunsford points to his work in creating the Centre County DUI Court.

Lunsford helped establish the Courthouse K-9 program, which uses dogs to help children feel more comfortable when they’re involved with the court system. He was also involved in starting the Centre County Children’s Advocacy Center at the Mount Nittany Medical Center, which seeks to treat and prevent child abuse. 

"The successful creation of the center is a statement of how our community works together to build a compassionate society which is dedicated to the protection of our children and fairness to everyone,” Lunsford says in the news release.

However, Lunsford has seen his share of trouble in recent months.

Lunsford is currently prevented from hearing any cases outside of DUI court because of an order signed by Centre County President Judge Tom Kistler last December. The order does not specify the reason why, and Kistler has declined to comment because judges often aren’t permitted to comment on court proceedings.

Also in December, the Centre County Prothonotary and solicitor both raised concerns that Lunsford may have removed documents from the public files of certain cases he presided over. Lunsford later returned the documents and sent a letter explaining the situation to the county solicitor.

He says the documents he removed were exhibits that had been stricken from the court record, and that the physical removal of the documents from the public files was a misunderstanding that did not affect their availability online.

In March, a defense attorney accused Lunsford of creating “a grave appearance of bias” by frequently texting prosecutors as a criminal case worked its way through the courts.

Sean McGraw, the defense attorney in question, alleged that the texts reflected an inappropriate amount of contact between Lunsford and two prosecutors. The prosecutors adamantly denied the allegations, calling them “without merit.”

Lunsford declined to be interviewed by StateCollege.com. However, his campaign spokesperson, Vinh Vuong, says the judge “strongly disagrees” with the allegations of bias. He says that Lunsford’s position as chair of the Criminal Justice Advisory Board requires frequent contact with many different people in the court system, including prosecutors.

“Outside distractions, and not justice, have defined the Centre County court system lately," Lunsford says in the news release. “There is absolutely no place for this behavior in our courts.”

Numerous sources, including the Centre County Solicitor, have told StateCollege.com that the Judicial Conduct Board of Pennsylvania is conducting an investigation that involves Lunsford, but could not offer further details.

A judicial conduct representative says the board cannot confirm or deny the existence of any investigation due to confidentiality requirements. Vuong declined to comment on the alleged investigation.

“Although the judicial code of ethics properly restricts my commenting on particular cases, it is my intention to respond when appropriate to do so,” Lunsford says in the news release.

Centre County voters will decide whether or not to retain Lunsford for another 10 year term during the general elections on Nov. 3.

 

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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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