Inauguration turns into gathering amongst old friends

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Inauguration in the Blair County Courthouse Friday afternoon could have been just another social gathering at which officials chatted and told stories because most of those being sworn in have known each other for many years.

Judge Timothy M. Sullivan mentioned that he and newly sworn-in Jury Commissioner Vincent P. Frank used to play basketball together, and Blair County’s newest common pleas judge, Wade Kagarise, was an assistant district attorney for 16 years.

Many of the participants have been in office for years. Judge Elizabeth A. Doyle began her second 10-year term, and Prothonotary and Clerk of Courts Carol Newman started her sixth term, after having already served 20 years.

It was the third time District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio received the oath and the second time for Sheriff Mitchell Cooper, Jury Commissioner Joy A. Foreman and Magisterial District Judge Steven D. Jackson.

And while Hollidaysburg Mayor John Stultz is new to the office, he served on Borough Council for 24 years prior to being elected mayor last fall.

But to Senior Judge Hiram A. Carpenter, Friday’s 90-minute swearing-in ceremony before an audience of 200-plus was more than just a gathering of friends and colleagues.

He thought it carried with it a “sense of renewal.”

The public officials got together for the serious purpose of transferring power under the rule of law – and to not only thank the voters for their trust, but to pledge to the public that they would do their jobs without tarnish.

Doyle said of the judges, “We will not act with bias or prejudice … disregard the law or rush to judgment … use our positions to advance our personal interests … engage in any activity that would result in the appearance of impropriety … or … be judicial activists.”

“We will,” she said, “Treat all people with dignity, courtesy and respect … listen carefully … apply the law with impartiality … recognize the court’s duty to protect the rights of all citizens … Acknowledge our errors and shortcomings.”

She quoted Senior Judge John M. Cleland of McKean County, who presided over the Jerry Sandusky trial in 2012 when he said “the justice system, like all systems, reflects the character of those who lead it.”

Kagarise, outlining how much he enjoyed his work as a prosecutor, emphasized to those on the defense side of the courtroom of his promise to be fair.

“I value the Constitution,” he said, then he promised he will “work hard, be straightforward, be tough but fair, and remember where I came from.”

President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva praised Doyle for her work with the Juvenile Drug Court, her ability to work as part of a team and for her “forthrightness and quick humor” that has helped the judges work through and settle their differences over the past 10 years.

Kopriva welcomed Kagarise to the bench. She called him a “premiere litigator,” praised him for his years of work teaching hundreds of college students and for becoming a dedicated and popular professor.

“We are challenged to have conviction, conscience and integrity as individuals so our character does not allow us to corrupt the power given to us by the voters, even in small insidious ways,” said Kopriva.

The ceremony had its touching moments. Kagarise donned his official robe for the first time while being assisted by his father, Roderick, and mother, Patty.

Family members also assisted Doyle and Jackson with their robes.

The inauguration was held in the largest courtroom in the courthouse, the scene of swearing-in ceremonies for more than 100 years.

Most of the time it’s just a courtroom, pointed out Commissioner Terry Tomassetti, but every once in a while, like on Friday, it turns into a “special place,” Tomassetti said.

On Friday, he said it was a “grand hall of democracy.”

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.