I am committed to hosting legal educational series from this court. We can have clinics and workshops on landlord tenant law, livable housing conditions, expungements, traffic law, gun law, bail, and other legal subject matter. As we raise legal literacy in our community, we will see less people taken advantage of and less people having their rights infringed.
Our next post of our 2023 primary election season series ‘Political Q&A’ with progressive candidates throughout Pennsylvania. Candidates can be anywhere in Pennsylvania running for any level of office. Please note that these are not necessarily endorsements, more of an opportunity for candidates to connect with the LGBTQ community, progressives neighbors, and others with an interest in Western Pennsylvania. If your candidate would like to participate, please contact us pghlesbian at gmail dot com. We welcome candidates at all levels of government across the entire Commonwealth.
By participating, candidates are saying that they
- must be an LGBTQIA+ ally, specifically supporting equality and dignity for transgender persons
- identify as pro-choice
- must affirm that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election and that they accept the certified Pennsylvania’s election results
Philip responded to my call for Q&A’s with a smart and humorous, but thoughtful response. I have not met him in person, but appreciated his initiative to seek out this opportunity to engage residents of his district AND his attention to our agreed upon timeline. Personally, I’m a fan of the emphasis on structuring court systems to educate and adapting to the realities of the community. It is a smart sort of reform that serves the community, not just the systems. I was also intrigued by his pledge to not take contributions from PA attorneys, PA law firms, or property management groups. The more we move special interest groups from campaign financing, the better.
There are many Magisterial seats up for election this cycle and the only two who have responded are both in 05-2-31. Never underestimate the precedent of the promises of a person running for judicial office. Keep up here.
Your Name: Philip Roberts
Your Pronouns: (He/Him/His)
The Office You Seek: Magisterial District Judge 05-2-31 covering the city of Pittsburgh’s 8th, 10th, and 11th Wards.
How do you describe your identity? I am a cis-het Male.
Tell us about your district. What is a hidden gem most people might not know about?
This Magisterial District is comprised of Bloomfield, Friendship, Garfield, East Liberty, Highland Park, Morningside, Stanton Heights, and Upper Lawrenceville. Those communities are in Wards 8, 10, and 11.
Our District is a microcosm of the wider Pittsburgh and Allegheny County area, both strengths and challenges – I think that makes it unique in the area, though I may be biased as I was raised here. I think its character and the people that live within the district alone make it a hidden gem. As far as a hidden gem to see or a business to frequent, there are countless. To name a few here are one or two of my personal favorites in each community:
- Highland Park: Unless you grew up here as a kid, many people do not know that there is more to do at King’s Estate Mansion than admire the architecture. King’s Mansion is a historic landmark with a stone tower on the property at the entrance to the woods that seems like it could have been described in a C.S. Lewis novel. However my recommendation is to check out the double hill leading into the woods; it’s the best sled riding spot in the City! Warm up with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate from Tazza D’Oro or LaScola’s. Each is a local small business with excellent products and service.
- East Liberty: Growing up in East Liberty I would have recommended Vento’s or frequenting Sneaker Villa. With much of this area changing in the last 15 years (both businesses above have closed) I would recommend stopping in to Bat’s Barbershop, which is one of the last historic businesses still standing in East Liberty. The shop recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. Additionally, there are some beautiful churches in this community to walk through and admire the architecture, stained glass windows, or monstrous pipe organs.
- Bloomfield: This neighborhood has historic business districts that attract people from all over the city. My mother’s family is Syrian and our favorite restaurant is Khalil’s on Baum Blvd. The food is traditional Syrian and the service matches! You will be greeted warmly and treated like family by Dalel and Leila who honor their Father and Mother’s legacy. I have never had food closer to my Setu’s (Arabic for grandmother) or Mother’s than here.
- Friendship: Octopus Garden. Check it out, it’s pretty cool!
- Garfield: Either check out the First Friday Gallery Crawl or if we are in the season of lent check out Valley View Church’s fish fry (Pastor Chad’s homemade tartar sauce is the best in the city).
- Morningside: Highly recommend going to BullDog Pub for a high profile soccer match! The environment is awesome and so are the food and drinks.
- Stanton Heights: The Allegheny County River Greenway is a must see.
- Upper Lawrenceville: Pizza Lupo & Fat Butcher. If you do not know about either one check them out and you can thank me later.
How has redistricting impacted your district?
Redistricting has not affected my district. The magisterial districts are divided by ward here in the city and those lines have not changed for quite some time.
Tell us about the first LGBTQ person you met and what impact they had on your life? Using initials or pseudonyms is fine.
Whether or not I knew it for a long time, the first LGBTQ person I met was my older brother. With my brother being older he was instrumental in the person I grew up to be. He was not just a brother who shared interests like Star Wars, swimming, Will Ferrel comedies, Legos, and more, but was a third parent helping care for me. My brother was always someone I looked up to. He was my piano teacher, he was my swim coach, he was my protector, and above all he was my brother. I will never be able to thank him or tell him how much he meant to me growing up and how much he still means to me as a brother and friend. I was 23 years old when my brother pulled me aside and confided in me that he was gay and it was clear that he wasn’t just nervous that his family (including me) wouldn’t accept him, but he expected it. One of the proudest moments of my life was to tell him that day and numerous days since that I love him and accept him. Being able to be an ally for my Brother is something that means the world to me. He took care of me for many years and always looked out for me. It makes me relish opportunities where I can be an ally and push for acceptance and inclusion for not just my brother, but the LGBTQ community.
My brother is always teaching me how to be more accepting and loving toward our LGBTQ community and posing hard questions that truly make me think and understand the challenges the community face. He continues to be a resource that I go to for advice and referrals on educating myself on issues I couldn’t understand as a straight male.
How has your familiarity with the LGBTQ community in your district and the region changed since you began practicing law?
Over the course of practice in many venues of the law, I’ve gotten to know the various resources and people who serve the community, that in turn have aided clients, in serious matters of the law, and in justice. I think there’s been a positive growth in the number of these entities since I began practicing, and I do my best to keep up with the changes to better serve as a lawyer and a community member. I think my personal familiarity with the community continues to grow and I find myself instituting inclusionary and accepting practices in my day to day professional activities like including my pronouns in all correspondence. We all should continue to strive to make each person feel safe and accepted in our day to day practice of law.
Our current system places an additional roadblock in the way of our City of Pittsburgh residents’ constitutional right to have a hearing on the charges against them. Additionally, from a policy standpoint our community is voting on a Magisterial District Judge that they trust to handle these cases. When individuals go to the Municipal Court downtown for preliminary hearings they could be in front of any of the City of Pittsburgh Magisterial District Judge.
Based on this, what do you understand to be our top LGBTQ concerns and priorities for the judicial system? How will you respond to those priorities?
I think more engagement, representation, and service by LGBTQ people in positions in the judicial system is and should be a top concern – from the court reporter, to the constables and tipstaffs, all the way on up to the judges themselves. I would do my best to encourage more members of the LGBTQ community to serve and work in the judicial system and I’d do my best to guide them, however I can. I will always serve as a Magisterial District Judge who will work every day to treat ALL members of our community with respect, equality, and compassion. I believe treating people equally means recognizing where historically we have not been fair or recognizing areas of the law that have been used to infringe on the rights of marginalized sections of the community, and then working to correct and protect those individuals. From the Magisterial District Court, I am committed to providing educational series like workshops and clinics in these areas; ie. landlord tenant law, livable housing conditions, the expungement process, bail systems, traffic laws, gun laws, and more.
Please give an example of how intersectionality has informed your work.
At various points, I worked in courts with specific duties, such as dispositions in Phoenix Dockets. When working with Phoenix Court, I saw people who were of a variety of backgrounds, cultural experiences, race and ethnicities, and identities that would be considered intersectional. I felt that sometimes special dockets and courts didn’t see the people before them, especially those identities and intersections, and I felt that they could do a better job. That experience, along with others since, opened my eyes to these shortcomings of the court and how it could reach more thoughtful, appropriate, and accommodative outcomes, that help the person as they are before them, as well as the need for justice in a matter.
Please give an example of when another lawyer has persuaded you to change or adjust your perspective on an issue.
I am proud to have professional colleagues who I trust and admire. It is important as legal professionals to surround yourself with attorneys of integrity to help aid one another in situations of importance and consequence. Most recently, as I began this campaign, I was approached by a fellow attorney, who advised me on the importance of not accepting financial contributions from Pennsylvania attorneys or law firms. They talked to me at length about how the community would be better off and safer from even the appearance of partiality or corruption. I went so far as to get counsel on the attorney for the hard decisions and situations that can arise once in office when you are approached with gifts that may seem harmless, but can create the appearance of corruption. I am fortunate to have received this guidance from my colleague and friend, but also am using their advice as I run my campaign with the pledge of not taking any money from Pennsylvania attorneys or law firms. Additionally, I expanded this pledge to include property ownership and management groups/companies/PACS.
Magisterial District Judges are perhaps the ones who have the most contact with constituents, but are often not well understood. Please describe the role of the Magistrate in the judicial system.
Magisterial District Judges hear truancy proceedings, housing proceedings, small claims proceedings, and criminal preliminary hearings. I believe Magisterial District Judge’s should have many roles in our system. The Magistrates are the first interaction point with the legal system for many members of our community. Because we are the first tangible interaction, the Magistrate’s role should be to make sure the District Courts are accessible for the communities they serve. A Magistrate needs to prioritize being fair and impartial to all members of the community. Additionally, Magistrates are responsible for applying the law set by legislature and in case precedent to the facts, cases, and issues brought forth from the community and law enforcement. Additionally, I believe the Magistrate has a role to provide legal community resources to its constituents.
What impact does being a LGBTQ culturally competent magistrate have on the community?
Having an LGBTQ culturally competent Magistrate will have a positive impact on our community. Someone who is culturally competent will be able to give validation, a voice, and safety to members of our LGBTQ community. For example, a culturally competent Magistrate when hearing from a LGBTQ community member, who is struggling with a mental health need, would be able to provide a reference and follow up with a helpful district resource, such as PERSAD Center. A caring Magistrate would ask an individual to follow up with them and let them know how they are doing regardless of the type of case or disposition to make sure their needs are being met with resources arranged; I would like to think that I would be such a Magistrate.
I find myself instituting inclusionary and accepting practices in my day to day professional activities like including my pronouns in all correspondence. We all should continue to strive to make each person feel safe and accepted in our day to day practice of law.
Most people do not realize that magistrates are not required to be lawyers or even have any legal education – or high school diplomas – in Pennsylvania. You are dealing with intricate matters involving evictions, arrest warrants, protection from abuse orders, truancy, and bail hearings among other issues involving very vulnerable neighbors. These are life altering scenarios that if not properly executed could leave legal loopholes to derail justice. Knowing people and understanding the issues is one thing, but knowing the law seems essential. It isn’t just about making good decisions, it is about making legally sound decisions. How does your experience as a lawyer prepare you for this particular role?
I am proud to come to our community as a well rounded and experienced Attorney. When I was in Michigan obtaining my law degree, I became a facilitative mediator and mediated cases for multiple district courts in the State of Michigan. These cases included small claims and housing issues. During my career, I have gained experience working for a civil litigation defense firm, clerking for a court of common pleas family division judge, working for The Bank of New York Mellon, working as a trial attorney in criminal law for Allegheny County, and serving as an Assistant Solicitor for Allegheny County’s Law Department. My legal experience has allowed me to build experience and expertise in litigation, evidentiary matters, legal research and writings, regulatory and compliance work, determining credibility as a fact finder, and guiding parties toward a collaborative resolution. The latter two skills were developed as I was responsible for conciliating matters with pro se litigants and attorneys for a Judicial docket in Family division.
Your website claims that you will restructure the magisterial court. Please give some examples of how you would restructure your own courtroom if you are elected?
Our Magisterial District Court needs many reforms. First we have to make it more accessible for the community. I would ensure we create a website and online access to forms and documents. I would work to have night court once a week from 12pm-9pm for individuals who have obligations and responsibilities during normal business hours. We need to ensure that truancy proceedings are happening within the schools. The teachers, guidance counselors, and social workers working at the schools have to be involved in these types of proceedings. Additionally, we should never be pulling a student out of school for the convenience of the “Court” or Magistrates hours.
Our Magisterial District Court must engage with our community and work to be a resource for all of our neighbors. I am committed to hosting legal educational series from this court. We can have clinics and workshops on landlord tenant law, livable housing conditions, expungements, traffic law, gun law, bail, and other legal subject matter. As we raise legal literacy in our community, we will see less people taken advantage of and less people having their rights infringed.
I want to introduce more mediation proceedings within our small claims and housing dockets. Ultimately I would like to work to get a community mediation center/program established and interjected as a first step in the magisterial district court process. I am committed to mediating these dockets myself as we work to coordinate with mediation and alternative dispute resolution services in the area.
Last, but not least I will advocate to bring the non-violent criminal misdemeanor preliminary hearings back to the local court on Bryant Street. Almost all non-violent crime stems from mental health issues, substance abuse disorders, poverty, or lack of resources. Our current system places an additional roadblock in the way of our City of Pittsburgh residents’ constitutional right to have a hearing on the charges against them. Additionally, from a policy standpoint our community is voting on a Magisterial District Judge that they trust to handle these cases. When individuals go to the Municipal Court downtown for preliminary hearings they could be in front of any of the City of Pittsburgh Magisterial District Judges. Municipal Court is a fast place and a hectic court where more often than not we are not taking our time to work with the alleged defendants. If we move the non-violent misdemeanor charged crimes back to the community courts in the city, those Magisterial District Judges can invest appropriate time and resources making sure the Defendant has their constitutional right of a hearing, but also investing in listening to the individual and providing services that the individual may need.
How do competitive primary elections benefit the residents of a community?
Competitive elections are a hallmark of a healthy democracy and civic discourse, especially in small races where we interact as neighbors in a community. Topics are broached; different ideas are heard; debate and forums are open; and the people have the strongest voice at that moment, if any candidate wants their support to be elected and serve, especially in highly competitive elections. Competitive elections sharpen that engagement, and the outcome is elected officials and services that reflect their will, and the best ideas of the campaigns participating.
What are three reasons people should vote for you/support your campaign?
- Fairness and impartiality: I am the only candidate that has publicly pledged to not take contributions from PA attorneys, PA law firms, or property management groups.
- I have legal experience in all jurisdictions a Magisterial District Judge hears cases on. Additionally, I have judicial experience handling judicial conciliations in Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Family Division and hearing small claims and housing cases as a mediator.
- I am committed to making this Court accessible to everyone and making it a resource to our community. I will interact with our neighbors with respect, compassion, and fairness.
Tell me about your other endorsements and supporters.
We are still early in “endorsement season” and have a number of endorsements pending. But I’m very proud of the support we received at some of the early local endorsement openings – especially at Allegheny County Democratic Committee, where we had strong support along with the other two candidates. The endorsement came down to one vote separating all three candidates. Stay tuned to our social media for future endorsements.
I am the only candidate that has publicly pledged to not take contributions from PA attorneys, PA law firms, or property management groups.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I’m very glad to be a candidate in this race, and appreciate the opportunity to submit answers to your site. I know that the award-winning reporting here is considered a resource to the LGBTQ community and it’s allies and greatly appreciate the time you gave in creating and disseminating this questionnaire.
Where can readers find your campaign on social media?
Thank you, Phillip.
Other Q&A’s in this election cycle series. You can read previous cycle Q&A’s here.
- Q&A with Rachael Heisler, Candidate for Pittsburgh City Controller
- Q&A with Abigail Salisbury, Candidate for PA State House District 34
- Q&A with Erica Rocchi Brusselars, Candidate for Allegheny County Treasurer
- Q&A with Bethany Hallam, Incumbent Candidate for Allegheny County Council, At-Large
- Q&A with Tracy Royston, Candidate for Pittsburgh City Controller
- Q&A with Lita Brillman, Candidate for City Council, District 5
- Q&A with Kate Lovelace, Candidate for Magisterial District Judge 05-2-31
- Q&A with Valerie Fleisher, Candidate for Mt. Lebanon School Board
- Q&A with Barb Warwick, Candidate for City Council, District 5
- Q&A with Nerissa Galt, Candidate for PENNCREST School Board
- Q&A with Todd Hoffman, Candidate for Mt. Lebanon School Board
- Q&A with Dan Grzybek, Candidate for Allegheny County Council, District 5
- Q&A with Khari Mosley, Candidate for City Council, District 9
- Q&A with Alexandra Hunt, Candidate for Philadelphia City Controller
- Q&A with Deb Gross, Candidate for City Council, District 7
- Q&A with Phillip Roberts, Candidate for Magisterial District Judge 05-2-31
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