Gregory Paulson

A Lancaster attorney is staging a write-in campaign for the Democratic nomination for county judge in the May primary, raising the specter of a fall challenge to Republican Craig Stedman, the embattled district attorney.

Gregory Paulson, 73, who serves as state Rep. Mike Sturla’s district chief of staff, said Tuesday he decided to run after receiving encouragement from Democrats and Republicans alike, as well as a clean bill of health from his doctor and discussions with his wife.

“I am always interested in being of service to the community,” Paulson said.

Paulson is the only announced candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination. Because he did not circulate nomination petitions in time to get on the ballot, he must obtain at least 250 write-in votes in the May 21 primary.

If he is successful, he would face Stedman in the November election. Stedman, who is completing his third four-year term as district attorney, is the endorsed Republican and faces no opponents in the primary.

"We feel Republicans and Democrats know the record of Craig Stedman in successfully fighting crime," Kirk Radanovic, chair of the Republican Committee of Lancaster County, said. "We trust voters to recognize his perseverance and success in crime fighting, both in the primary and general election."

Stedman has faced criticism from the county commissioners for his lease of an SUV with money intended for drug-law enforcement at the same time he was raising concern about funding for his drug task force. The commissioners have called the lease improper.

Stedman also violated county policy when he suspended a veteran prosecutor for reasons “related to political campaign activities,” according to the county’s human resources department.

Still, Paulson would face an steep climb in the fall. No Democrat has served on the local bench in modern history. And Stedman still enjoys the support of police and members of the Republican Party — critical blocs in the county — despite the controversies in his office.

Paulson has run and lost for public office before, most recently for state Senate against Sen. Scott Martin in 2016. He also unsuccessfully sought a local judgeship in 1991. A Lancaster Bar Association review found him to be “qualified” for the position, though not “well qualified” that year. In 1990 a judicial screening panel found him to be “well qualified.”

Paulson is paid $72,956 annually as Sturla’s chief of staff, records show. He was licensed to practice law in 1972, according to state records.

Court of Common Pleas judges are paid $183,184 a year.

Stedman ran unsuccessfully in 2017 for a seat on the statewide Superior Court. He was highly recommended by the state bar association.

Stedman was also rated  "highly recommended" by the Lancaster Bar Association during a 2018 bid for a seat on the Court of Common Pleas.