A special election will be held Nov. 2 for the DuBois office of magisterial district judge (MDJ-46-3-01), which was vacated by Pat Ford when he retired in October of last year.
A field of six cross-filed candidates was narrowed to Elliot M. Gelfand and David Sean Meholick after the May Primary. Gelfand took the Democratic side while Meholick won the Republican side.
GANT News conducted a candidate questionnaire so the county’s DuBois area voters could use candidates’ responses to gauge their views, experience and knowledge.
Each candidate was asked the same 10 questions. Candidates were not limited in their responses; thorough, well-thought-out responses were strongly encouraged.
Only Gelfand responded and his questionnaire responses are published in their entirety below.
Provide a brief biography and background.
My name is Elliot Gelfand. I was born and raised in DuBois, Pa., and attended the DuBois Area School District. My family are local business owners for the past 40 years, first with E & G Auto Parts and now with Archives Management Warehouse.
After high school at DAHS, I attended Penn State University where I earned a major in finance and a minor in political science. For the next two years, I was a paralegal in a large law firm in Washington, D.C.
I then proceeded to law school at the University of Pittsburgh. I graduated and passed the PA Bar exam. I then clerked for a federal district judge before working in the oil and gas industry and then as compliance counsel for Penn Highlands Healthcare.
I take pride in being an involved community member. I am a YMCA board member and a Rotarian. I coach youth soccer and youth flag football. I also teach classes at Penn State DuBois.
I have been married to Jenn Zaffuto for 10 years whose father owns a local powdered metal company and her mother is a teacher at the DuBois Area Middle School. We have two children, Jake is 7 and Chloe is 5, a cat, Snickers, and our newest addition, our dog Mary.
Why did you choose to run for Magisterial District Judge?
It allows me the opportunity to use my education, and years of legal experience for the greater good of the community I grew up in. It gives me the ability to make it a safer community for everyone to raise our children in.
It enables me to help our area address the drug crisis that is crippling our community. I can help people, help our community and conserve our communities’ resources.
I can be a community servant, which is what a public office deserves. I want to be the first attorney to serve as district judge in the history of Clearfield Count that gives our community the experience it deserves in this important position.
Furthermore, our community deserves a judge that has recent legal experience, a demonstrated dedication to the position and can apply the law fairly and knowledgeably to the people that come before them.
The 46-3-01 judicial district has never had an attorney as judge. It is time for that to change and give our area the experience it deserves.
I want to serve our community. I have a long record of community service, and I want what is best for this area and to try to improve it.
What qualifies you to hold the office of Magisterial District Judge?
I have dedicated my life to learning and serving the law. I minored in political science in college. I spent three years studying the law in law school, two years as a paralegal learning the ins and outs of legal practice, and have been a practicing attorney for 12 years continuously.
A district judge deals with many different types of cases and laws as judge. There is no way you can learn all the various laws a judge would deal with without having a legal education and practical experience with those laws.
I also have practical administration of justice experience having been a law clerk for a U.S. Federal District Court Judge.
An elected official needs to realize they are a community servant and have the best interests of the community as their goal. I have an established record of community service.
I have served this community as a YMCA board member, Rotary member and youth soccer coach. I have plans as district judge to make our community a safer, stronger place to live for everyone.
My opponent in 10 months of campaigning has not mentioned any plans for the office of district judge to improve our community. He has no record of community service. His interests in running are selfish.
Finally, I have the proper temperament to interact with other members of the local judicial system be it with other attorneys, law enforcement officers and the judges of the Court of Common Pleas of Clearfield County that supervise the district judge.
My opponent, on the other hand, was unable to properly perform his job as court administrator due to conflicts with the Clearfield Common Pleas judges leading to his termination.
Those same judges would oversee him as the district judge. If my opponent is elected, it is asking for the same kind of incident to occur again leading to inefficiency and higher cost for the taxpayers.
What is the most important aspect of this position, and how can you ensure you meet all the qualifications?
Knowledge and experience with the law. The job we are running for is being a judge. Judges need to apply the law. In order to apply the law properly, you need to have an understanding of it. A district judge is a very important position in our community.
The district judge deals with both civil and criminal law, landlord/tenant law, contract law and more. To be an effective, efficient and fair judge you need to have experience in all the different areas of law that could come before you to properly serve the community.
I have that experience. My opponent does not. I have spent three years in law school and the last 12 years practicing law to prepare for these responsibilities.
My opponent has not held any position in the last 15 years that would prepare him to be the district judge. Would you want a surgeon who hasn’t performed an operation in 15 years operating on you? I wouldn’t.
Similarly, I don’t want a judge who has no experience in the last 15 years making decisions on who should go to jail and lose their freedom.
What do you think makes you the better candidate for Magisterial District Judge, DuBois?
I have dedicated my adult life to learning about and working with the law. For the past 17 years, from being a paralegal, to law school, to practicing law for the last 12 years continuously, I have gained real world experience of how the law works and is interpreted, how the legal system works, how to deal with other participants in the system from law enforcement to other attorneys and especially judges.
I am specifically trained in the ethics of the legal profession and had to pass an ethics exam to be licensed as a lawyer. I am the most qualified candidate.
My opponent has not held a job relevant to being a judge in the last 15 years. Furthermore, my opponent was fired from his job as court administrator because he was unable to cooperate with the judges he was hired to serve.
My opponent would be a disaster for efficiency of the district judge office as he already has shown an inability to work with the other judges in the local system.
I am an involved community member. I want to make our community better for all. I have created plans to put in place, if I’m elected, to better the community and make it safer for our children. My opponent has not.
He is running for district judge for purely selfish reasons. One of his reasons is to unfreeze the government pension that he lost when he was fired as court administrator 15 years ago. Do you want someone as your judge whose goal is to live off the government for the rest of his life?
My opponent has serious conflicts of interest that should worry any community member that does not want to continue a system of buddy-buddy justice in this area.
His family owns a local drinking establishment and is supported by other bar owners in the area. What is going to happen when patrons of his bar come in front of him for DUI or other drinking-related offenses?
Will he recuse himself from these cases as he should thereby adding cost to the taxpayer to bring in other judges to perform the job he is supposed to be doing and adding inefficiency to the system? Or will he give priority to his customers and those of his supporters?
I do not have any conflicts of interest and do not owe anything to anyone.
Finally, I have been endorsed by members and organizations in our community. Seven people have written in to the Courier-Express to voice their endorsement for me as district judge. Over 40 community members have endorsed me as well as the Western PA Police Athletic League.
If you are elected, what would you make your priority once in office?
The drug crisis is the number one issue having a devastating effect on our area. I’ve pledged to work with District Attorney Ryan Sayers to establish a drug court for the area and to work with other drug and mental health professionals.
A Drug Court will help low-level drug offenders get the help they need and put them on a path to rehabilitation. It will also reduce overcrowding in the Clearfield County Jail, lowering costs to the taxpayers. Repeat offenders will be put in jail for more than one day providing an actual deterrent to drug sellers.
Running an efficient office both in time management and resource management. We need our police officers out on the streets and in the community, not sitting around the court room. Tax dollars need to be used conservatively.
I’d also bring back the Teen Court. Teen Court programs have been shown to reduce second offenses by 45 percent. They serve to educate our youth, not just about where they went wrong but also about the legal system.
The Teen Court Program allows teens who satisfy the conditions to have offenses removed from their record, not burdening them for the rest of their lives.
I would also work seamlessly together with the other district judges in Clearfield County and the Court of Common Pleas judges for the efficient administration of justice in Clearfield County.
What is the greatest challenge facing the office of Magisterial District Judge in DuBois, Clearfield County? How would you overcome it?
The greatest challenge, honestly, is that we have an unqualified, uninterested, wrongly-motivated candidate who could be elected as the next district judge for this area.
This dovetails with the other challenge that people don’t realize how important a position district judge is and how much impact their decisions can have on the community at large.
District judges can change how landlord/tenant issues are handled to help better protect landowner’s investments and help make our neighborhoods better, safer places to live.
They can change how we handle the drug crisis that is crushing our area. They can commit to rehabbing teens, working more efficiently with law enforcement, being more conservative with taxpayer resources.
But we have to elect a candidate that is committed to all those things and has the vision and understanding of what can be done within the bounds of the law.
My opponent does not have the understanding, the vision or the motivation to do any of these things. He wants to get his frozen pension released and live off the government.
If you are elected, what plans do you have to develop relationships with local law enforcement, court officials and attorneys?
I have put forth plans back in January committing to create a more respectful working relationship and more efficient working environment with local and state law enforcement.
I have already reached out to District Attorney Ryan Sayers, both Chiefs of Police of DuBois and Sandy Township as well as spoken to many local attorneys in our area.
Being an attorney, I already have working relationships with law enforcement, court officials and attorneys of the area.
I plan to be as accessible as possible, continuing outreach to all the stakeholders of the legal system to improve the system as best I can and keep open lines of communication to all with an open-door policy.
If you are elected, how would you be proactive and set an example within the communities you serve?
I plan to be accessible to all in the community. I want people to be able to come to talk to me at any time.
I will continue to speak to stakeholders in law enforcement, local city government, mental health professionals and addiction specialists to get anyone who comes before me the best help for their situation.
And I plan to continue what I’m doing now and have been doing for many years, which is serving my community through volunteering in various civic organizations, youth sports, the YMCA, etc.
I will also speak with the local schools to do yearly programs educating our youth on the legal system and I will be involved in the creation of the Teen Court and the running of that program.
What would you like voters to consider before they make their final choice for Magisterial District Judge, DuBois?
I would like the voters to consider the importance of the decision they are making. District judge is an extremely important local position that can have a massive effect on our local area.
It is crucial to elect someone that has experience in the areas of law that they will be judging people on. I have dedicated my life to learning and working with the law.
My opponent has not. He has not worked in a legal environment for the past 15 years. He was fired because he could not get along with judges!.
While I am the Democratic nominee on your ballot, I am a registered Republican. However, district judge is a non-partisan position.
My opponent is trying to make it all about political party showing his lack of understanding of the position.
If your family member comes before the judge facing jail time, are you worried about the political party of the judge?
Or do you want the most knowledgeable person about the law deciding your daughter’s fate? Do you want someone who actually knows the law or one who thinks they do?
I humbly ask that you consider my experience, community service, my plans for the position, and my dedication to being a public servant when you vote on Nov. 2 and would greatly appreciate your vote.