YC Director Nik Hatziefstathiou Announces Endorsement for Judge Leon Hunter for re-election

Judge Leon Hunter meeting with constituents in early March.

Delaware County, Pa. – Jan. 26, 1996, a date that Leon Hunter remembers vividly. Hunter was an active lieutenant in the Newtown Square Police Department where the notorious standoff with John duPont aired internationally, but little did he know that soon he’d be the face of Newtown Square around the globe. The New York Times, CNN and ABC are just a handful of international networks in which Leon Hunter appeared on during the endeavor. Furthermore, Judge Hunter can be seen on the Netflix documentary “Team Foxcatcher” appearing on CNN.

A 27-year native of the Newtown Square Police Department, Leon Hunter’s career in the criminal justice field begun as a patrolman who made his way up the ranks to sergeant, lieutenant and then chief of police for nine years.

Judge Leon Hunter is a dedicated man to the bench, who defendants and citizens of all walks of life can count on not for a handout, but for a hand up. His ability to look at somebody standing before him and imagine what their lives are like is a trait that is inherited after a lifetime of public service.

Judge Hunter doesn’t always side with the police, something you’d expect given the negativity Pennsylvania courts have been receiving in recent years. On February 22, 2015, an Australian man who was before Judge Hunter for a moving violation was astonished when Judge Hunter sided with him on the violation, something that is somewhat rare in a court proceeding when the officer and the defendant do not negotiate a guilty plea. The man wasn’t savvy with the law nor was he able to provide a good explanation other than “I didn’t really know better, judge.” The man expressed that he had never been before a judge, citing some Australian traffic laws. Judge Hunter proved that he is in fact a mediator who doesn’t always side with the police. Though that isn’t a reasonable defense, Judge Hunter was able to put himself in the shoes of the man standing before him. “Welcome to the United States,” Judge Hunter told the individual, giving him a story to tell friends and relatives of a humble judge who was able to reason with him.

Those who say that we are in a time where there is no justice, simply have not met an individual like Judge Hunter. Citizens from all walks of life throughout Newtown and Radnor Townships agree that Judge Hunter is a man who believes that a person’s downtimes, fears and mistakes are not fixed states, they’re experiences to learn from and leave behind.

From my 12 years serving as a Judge, I recognize that decisions made by the Court affect more than just the people in the courtroom. I strongly support and encourage participation in diversionary programs, including those which redirect youths away from formal processing in the juvenile justice system, while still holding them accountable for their actions. – Judge Leon Hunter

On the other hand, his opponent for the race, Christopher Bagnato, is a general practice attorney who passes himself off as the only qualified candidate, citing merely one qualification numerous times on literature, Facebook and his website.

Specializing in immigration law, Bagnato has appeared on Telemundo to voice in on ongoing cases for those in the Spanish community to get a better understanding.

Our concern with Bagnato is not his chosen field of practice. Good immigration and family lawyers are vitally needed in today’s society given the recent issues many illegal immigrants are facing. However, immigration and family lawyers rarely appear in district courts. Additionally, when an attorney lists that he or she practices a large range of different fields, that would be like going to a dentist for a spinal tap, since they’re technically both doctors. Clients have voiced their negative encounters with Bagnato, one stating “A young attorney, fresh out of law school. The judge was not impressed with this attorney, and have to assist him with civil court procedures. My advice for Christopher Bagnato, go back to law school.”

The problem is rather with Bagnato mischaracterizing the nature of his work and background to appeal to more voters. It is a kind of sleight of hand that has no place in any courtroom, especially as a judicial figure who is elected and expected to be honest.

Bagnato is hardly the first judicial candidate to elevate garden-variety resume inflation into voter deception in order to become a judge, as State Rep. Margo Davidson and her husband, Robert Davidson attempted to do in order to sway votes for him in 2015. Ultimately, the dishonest duo failed and Judge Christopher Mattox was re-elected, who was endorsed by YC. Following the election, State Rep. Margo Davidson’s son was arrested for distributing heroin and then re-arrested while in jail for additional heroin charges by Upper Darby Police.

Noticing the recent ads rotating on Facebook with opponent Christopher Bagnato, it seems that a law degree is more important than community service, involvement and a passion for justice.

As an unbiased network of millennials, we take a number of factors into consideration prior to making an endorsement to a candidate running for any office.

In comparison to Judge Hunter’s resume, Bagnato’s doesn’t stack up. He’s been a lawyer since 2010, which is his only qualification. Having a law degree does not necessarily mean that Bagnato would be able to pass the exam non-lawyers take at the Minor Judiciary Education Board in Harrisburg, given that attorneys do not need to learn the ins-and-outs of being a judge while in law school. However, the program in Harrisburg is a vigorous course that solely focuses on the role of a magisterial district judge.

YC Fact Check

“The only candidate who is a lifelong resident of Newtown Township” – Christopher Bagnato

Judge Leon Hunter was born and raised in Newtown Township. Second, the Hunter nand has roots in the community dating back to the 1700’s. Lastly, he spent 27-years of his life at the Newtown Square Police Department and an additional 11 years serving as the magisterial district judge. This statement is false.


“The only candidate licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania” – Christopher Bagnato

Given that he is an attorney and passed the bar exam in 2010, this is the one qualification that Bagnato does hold. However, his exact practice field is extremely vague as he lists just about every field of law imaginable. This brings in to question his ability or expertise in one specific field, whether it be family law or immigration. This statement is true.


“I represent many people within the communities and especially many Latino Americans since I myself am American with Latino Heritage and speak Spanish.” – Christopher Bagnato

This becomes an issue as it questions the impartiality of the individual. Emphasizing that the candidate works “especially” with a specific group of people does not express the qualities we would expect in someone running for judicial office.

According to the Pennsylvania Code of Judicial Conduct, this is a statement that goes against section 3 in the preamble which reads “Judges should uphold the dignity of judicial office at all times, avoiding both impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in their professional and personal lives. They should at all times conduct themselves in a manner that garners the highest level of public confidence in their independence, fairness, impartiality, integrity, and competence.”


Bagnato’s Major Issues

On each website Bagnato appears on, including but not limited to LinkedIn, Facebook, YourPhiladelphiaLawyers and Avvo – our main concern is that he represents himself as a different type of attorney.

LinkedIn: Litigation Attorney
Your Philadelphia Lawyers: Litigation, Immigration Criminal Defense and Family Law. Additionally, this site falsely claims that Bagnato is a member of the Delaware County Bar Association.
Christopher Bagnato for Judge: Family Law, Criminal Law, Immigration, Personal Injury and Commercial Litigation.
Avvo: Bagnato focuses on family law, handling matters involving divorce, custody and support. This site also states that he also handles criminal and immigration matters.
Facebook: Criminal and Civil Attorney, Divorce/Family, Immigration, Personal Injury, Estate “plus everything else.”

We label Bagnato as a “questionable attorney” as it is unclear what field he specializes in and practices. Additionally, Bagnato advertises his law office on the campaign Facebook page, asking users to contact him if they have any legal questions.

False Promise

According to Rule 32, a candidate for judicial office may state personal views on legal, political or other issues but may not make pledges or promises other than the faithful and impartial performance of the duties of office. Bagnato’s website reads “I welcome all referrals and ideas as to what we can do to make our Neighborhoods a safer, better place to live.” Additionally, this statement potentially violates Rule 34.

Bagnato Arrested

Bagnato was arrested in 2002 for driving under the influence in Newtown Square. Bagnato’s statement in court wasn’t credible, according to a court opinion entered. After an appeal was filed, an appellate court found that Bagnato’s statement didn’t add up.

In considering and weighing the testimony of [Vitali] and [Bagnato], the Court found [Vitali] to be more credible. [Bagnato] would have this Court believe that he did not hear the implied consent warnings given by [Vitali], yet responded that “I ain’t going to do shit” to something that he did not hear or understand.  Honorable Jess S. Jiuliante (Pennsylvania Appellate Court)

The slang used adds up, as an angry client stated in 2014 on Avvo that she received an email from Bagnato using “slang terms,” claiming that Bagnato was using “unethical professional practices.”


But Judge Leon Hunter Doesn’t Have a Law Degree?

Eric Epstein, a Harrisburg-based government watchdog who runs a website called Rock the Capital stated, “Being an attorney does not ensure sound judgment or moral rectitude. How did a law degree make Judges Mark Ciavarella, Michael Conahan, Joan Orie Melvin and Seamus McCaffery better equipped to mete out justice,” discussing scandals that rocked the courts in Pennsylvania in recent years.

This has extreme significance to why Judge Leon Hunter should be re-elected.

With no side business or distractions, Judge Leon Hunter commits himself to the community 24/7 year-round. A majority of sitting district judges in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are not attorneys, as they are not there to practice law. District judges hear cases that require traits, which cannot be taught in school or training, but by experience and a passion for justice. District judges are individuals who can put themselves in the shoes of the accused and see themselves through the eyes of the person standing before them.

Additionally, this could help keep the police out and about when one is arrested. For instance, small townships such as Newtown Square do not have the manpower to have officers on the street after an arrest. A person must be seen by a district judge before being released or sent to county jail awaiting the next step in the process. Judge Hunter, being a former cop knows this firsthand. He devotes himself 24/7 and told YC that when the police need him, he is typically able to be at the police station within minutes to review a warrant or perform other duties, saving the police the time of having to drive to his home or location.

Of the 527 district judges in the state, only 148 are attorneys, according to the Minor Judiciary Education Board.

About the Course

“I think the course … provides invaluable training,” said Magisterial District Judge David A. Plachko, Port Carbon. “It’s an intensive course of study.”

Plachko, who has been in office since 1991, said the course is limited to the topics magisterial district judges need to know and prepared him well for the position.

“We get intensive study on criminal law,” including search-and-seizure rules they need to know for issuing warrants, he said. “We get a heavy dose of ethics. Believe me, it’s intensive.”

The People vs. The Prosecution

A job of a district judge is not to side with the police or the accused, but to ensure that those who stand before the court have an equal opportunity to be heard and weigh the facts outlining the case with the law. The court shall act as a mediator between the people and the prosecution, with a mission to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

About Our Endorsement

In 2015, YC endorsed Christopher R. Mattox, a candidate running for re-election as a district judge in Upper Darby. His opponent was not an attorney. However, he lacked the experience and passion that Judge Leon Hunter has proven over the decades of service to the community. YC does not endorse candidates based on political affiliations, but by their overall qualifications and the long run result of the candidate’s ability to bring about change and a positive effect to the community.

Overall Decision Factors

Judge Hunter Pros & Qualifications

  • 27-years of law enforcement experience
  • 12-years of judicial experience on the bench as a district judge
  • Member of the Pennsylvania Special Judges Association
  • Member of the Delaware County Judges Association
  • Member of the American Judges Association
  • Newtown Township native, with family on the bench dating back three centuries
  • Heard 50,000+ cases throughout his 12-year judicial career

Christopher Bagnato Pros & Qualifications

  • Practicing attorney in Pennsylvania

 

For additional information on Judge Hunter, visit his committee’s Facebook page.