Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
Spahn touts broad base of court experience
A LOOK AT JUDGE HOPEFULS: PART 2 Spahn touts broad base of court experience BY DAN NEPHIN, Staff Writer
Merrill Spahn Jr. may be best known for his criminal defense work, but he touts his experience in the entire county court system as his strongest attribute as a judicial candidate.
"Criminal cases get the headlines, but the reality is, our Court of Common Pleas has five different divisions. I have practiced in all five different divisions: criminal, civil, juvenile, orphan and family. ... I've been in front of all of our judges here. So, I really present a broad base of legal experience," Spahn said in a recent interview.
Spahn, 45, of Strasburg Township, is one of four Republican candidates running for the sole vacant judge's seat in Lancaster County. The others are county prosecutor Christopher P. Larsen, Magisterial District Judge Jayne F. Duncan and defense attorney Thomas B. Sponaugle.
Besides being the county's deputy chief public defender, Spahn is a partner at Spahn & Encarnacion, which also handles family law. He is also appointed by the county court system in child custody and dependency matters.
Spahn said his understanding of, and respect for, the position of judge also inform his decision to run.
"I don't think that anyone can spend 20 to 21 years in court as I have without having a respect for the position," he said.
A judge, he said, must have the appropriate temperament.
"Courtrooms aren't places for judges to advocate for one side or the other," he said. "They're not a forum for the judges' entertainment or egos. ... Really, you're there to provide a fair forum for everyone that comes before the court."
Lancaster County has traditionally had a very good bench, he said, "but I've been in front of judges who have really forgotten their role. And there's nothing more frustrating than a judge who crosses the line and tries to advocate a position for one side or the other or tries to entertain themselves. "
Judges must also be good governmental stewards, he said.
Judges have to take an active role in helping bring about a "more efficient system of justice without jeopardizing justice in the process," he said.
They also need to work with the community "to help solve some of society's ills to the extent that they can," he said.
And since, unlike legislative positions, judges are elected to 10-year terms, "The community really ought to have judges that represent their value system because it is such a lengthy period of service," he said.
Growing up here, Spahn said, "I think that I share our community's values, core fiscal values and core social values."
Spahn acknowledges criticisms that are sometimes lodged at defense attorneys.
"Don't think for a minute that as a father, as a husband or as a resident of this community where I grew up, that being a defense attorney isn't hard at times," he said.
"I do what I do because I believe in the Constitution. I believe in the right to a fair trial. I believe in the right to due process. And I believe in the right to an effective representation of counsel," he said.
Defense work has taught him that he could control any situation that could arise in a criminal courtroom and in these times of limited government funding.
There are distinctions between offenders who can be rehabilitated versus those whom society must be protected from and those who've made a lifestyle choice of crime, he said.
"I think 20 years of sitting next to these folks and being involved in criminal cases gives me a pretty good eye,'' he said. "And on some levels, because of the funding -- or lack thereof -- our judges need to be gatekeepers. And I think the experience I have would certainly give me a leg up in making those difficult choices."
Spahn and his wife, Audra Spahn, have two daughters, Cali, 13, and Georgia, 3. He graduated from Penn State University and Dickinson Law School. In his third year of law school, he spent a year interning in the Cumberland County district attorney's office when current state Supreme Court justice J. Michael Eakin was prosecutor.
The Republican Committee of Lancaster County is expected to endorse a candidate Feb. 19.
The candidates are seeking the seat held by Judge Louis Farina, who turns 70 this year, making him ineligible to run for another 10-year term.