BEDFORD - Just a week into serving as Bedford County's new president judge, Thomas Ling is settling into his new routine.
Having served as a judge in the county since 2000, Ling previously handled civil cases, while Judge Daniel Howsare, who retired earlier this month, handled criminal cases.
Now Ling is trying to negotiate a balance between the two.
(Mirror photo by Wendy Zook)
Bedford County President Judge Thomas Ling, who has served as a judge since 2000, has held the president judge position for about a week. “Justice is not getting done if people are not being heard,” he said.
On Tuesday, he took a guilty plea from a criminal defendant amid his scheduled protection-from-abuse order hearings, rather than reschedule the plea for a different day.
"There's a certain elasticity to the system," Ling said. "What we have to find out in these first 30 days is how elastic the system is."
It's doubtful that the state will appoint a replacement for the vacant judge seat in Bedford County or more than 20 other appointments that need to be filled, Ling said, even though Bedford is still a two-judge county based on population and caseload. The next election for the position will take place in January 2012.
The Ling file
Name: Thomas S. Ling
Title: President judge of Bedford County
Education: 1968 graduate of Chestnut Ridge High School; 1977 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown; 1980 graduate of the J.D. Dickinson School of Law.
Military: Served in the U.S. Navy until 1973.
Family: Wife, Mary; daughters, Lori and Nicole; two grandsons.
Previous experience: Supervisor and committeeman, Lincoln Township; public defender, assistant district attorney and district attorney, Bedford County
Ling said the county would have to consider an extension of hours as a first option if both criminal and civil schedules couldn't be met. A traveling judge also could help hear some cases.
"It's a balancing act," he said.
Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins said the balancing act is what has made Ling a pleasure to work with for the past 10 years.
"He's very easy to talk to, very easy to work with and very fair to both sides," Higgins said. "We're looking forward to working with him. I don't have a bad thing to say about him."
Higgins said Ling seems to be receptive to new ideas such as intermediate punishment, or rehabilitation-type programs for offenses like driving under the influence, and public punishment for certain offenses.
"I think I see some merit in it," Ling said of the public punishment idea, which he agreed to in a plea before him last year for a PFA order violator. "The victim's satisfaction was very high. It seemed to resolve itself pretty well."
Jeannee Mallow, executive director with Your Safe Haven, the county's victim and witness protection service, called Ling "awesome," especially for his one-on-one meetings with individuals filing PFAs, something Mallow said most counties don't have.
"I don't think people realize the significance this man has brought in his leadership capacity to this county in responding to victims of crime," Mallow said. "We're so excited now that he's the president judge. I have no doubt Judge Ling is going to continue to promote his good leadership abilities, working with the system to make sure we are doing everything we can to make sure all sides are treated fairly."
The most important thing for now, Ling said, is to keep the system running as smoothly as possible.
"The duty of the courts is to serve the people," he said. "Justice is not getting done if people are not being heard. It is a big deal."
Of the criminal side of things, Ling calls himself "rusty," although he has his experience as a district attorney and public defender to fall back on and the continuous education of new laws and decisions.
"We'll do the best we can," he said confidently.
Ling said he never expected 20 years ago to see the expansion not only of the courthouse but also the increase in the volume of cases to be heard.
"When I first started, we had a half-day off for Bedford County Fair Day," he said with a laugh.
But the biggest surprise was his becoming president judge.
"My only plan was to come back and practice law," he said.
And president judge he shall be, unless another surprise comes up in the meantime, until his term runs out in 2020. Then, Ling said with a smile, "I'll be senior judge."