The biggest challenge of getting real justice for LGBTQ+ community members is to have judges who are culturally competent and lack bigotry. Judges need to use proper names and pronouns, of course, but judges also need to understand, and to be willing to understand, the particular problems and needs of members of this community, and to empathize with and value community members as much as all residents.
The next post in 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
Sometimes this Q&A series introduces me to people who take my breath away. Weldianne Scales is one such person. I extended the invitation to participate without knowing her. Then I learned she had sponsored and successfully passed a nondiscrimination ordinance in Swissvale as a member of borough council. Then I saw on her website that she uses video clips to introduce herself, but also to explain how the magisterial courts work. That’s beautiful – using the website to invite us to understand the office itself, not just the candidate. THEN I read that she had clerked for Judge Arnold Klein whom caught my attention in a good way back in 2007. And, finally, I read her response to this Q&A. You should, too.
Your Name: Weldianne Scales
Your Pronouns: she/her
The Office You Seek: Magistrate District Judge 05-2-08
How do you describe your identity? I am a Black cishet woman.
Tell us about your district. What is a hidden gem most people might not know about?
Our district is diverse in so many ways, with a wide range of housing and topography. One thing all of the communities in our district have in common is mainly early-mid twentieth century homes, which makes our communities compact, walkable, and neighborly. In all of our boroughs, people know each other, and have many residents whose families have been here for generations. This makes our communities strong.
One hidden gem is the amazing views of the Carrie Blast furnaces, and the Monongahela River, from parts of swissvale. It was probably less beautiful when it was spewing pollution directly towards Swissvale, but now it is a nationally recognized historic landmark– and it’s striking to just be moving through the day and look down at it.
How has redistricting impacted your district? While there was a redistricting of the Magistrate District several years ago, we have been stable in the past decade.
Tell us about the first LGBTQ person you met and what impact they had on your life? Using initials or pseudonyms is fine. I have known so many LGBTQ+ persons since I was a child, that it really is not possible to answer this question exactly as it has been asked. There has never been a time when I did not know LGBTQ+ people. I have been friends with people who have felt that they had to suppress who they really were for a long time, and I have offered them support and understanding and am so happy that now they can live their truth. As a Black woman, I feel like I can identify with some of the traumas and oppressions experienced by members of the LGBTQ+ community.
I am a Black woman running for judge in a county where only 2 MDJs are women of color. Given the Black population in our county, and particularly the overrepresentation of Black people among those forced to appear before our courts, it could not be more important to have a more diverse bench.
How has your familiarity with the LGBTQ community in your district and the region changed since you began practicing law?
I became a lawyer not too long before Obergefell, so I was a lawyer through an incredible decade of change nationally, and this had so many local implications as well. I have always been personally familiar with the LGBTQ+ community in our district, but the community has absolutely become Louder and Prouder over the past decades. I’m thrilled that I was able to play some role in protecting the LGBTQ+ residents of Swissvale through the anti-discrimination ordinance I created, supported, and passed as a legislative act on Swissvale Council.
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?
The biggest challenge of getting real justice for LGBTQ+ community members is to have judges who are culturally competent and lack bigotry. Judges need to use proper names and pronouns, of course, but judges also need to understand, and to be willing to understand, the particular problems and needs of members of this community, and to empathize with and value community members as much as all residents. Whether it be a landlord-tenant dispute, a criminal charge, or something else, an individual’s LGBTQ+ status can seriously impact how certain other people, whether neighbors or law enforcement officers, perceive and interact with them, and a magistrate needs to be sensitive to that possible dynamic in hearing all parties.
Please give an example of how intersectionality has informed your work.
I am a Black, cis-gendered, heterosexual woman, and the daughter of an immigrant. I am of the Christian faith. I have been a single mother. I am now a person who is comfortably married, has a law degree, and has achieved real financial stability. All of these identities have shaped me profoundly. I understand what it feels like to be marginalized, to have people around me not see my full potential, to be skeptical of me and refuse to really see me just because of who I am. I still experience racial and gendered prejudice every day. Because I have that background and live in that reality, while I am not a member of the LGBTQ+ community, not Jewish or Muslim, not struggling with poverty, addiction, or mental illness, I can empathize with the experience of marginality and the weight of prejudice. I bring this knowledge and empathy to everything I do. This is one reason I have engaged in so much pro-bono work as an attorney, for instance.
You currently serve on the Swissvale Borough Council. Please give an example of when another member of Council has persuaded you to change or adjust your perspective on an issue.
We had a matter on Swissvale council where we had applied for a grant to improve a disadvantaged area of our community. Some council members wanted to use part of the grant awarded to improve a more prosperous area of our community, which I opposed because I wanted the disadvantaged area to have all of the funding it was in need of receiving. I ultimately understood we were awarded a larger grant, and had the opportunity to do both.
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.
The MDJ is the gateway to the justice system. Almost all legal matters start in that courtroom. Most of what the MDJ processes are traffic violations, but they do almost everything else, from criminal to landlord-tenant, to non-traffic citations to civil. Basically, whenever there is a conflict within our community that people cannot solve, or whenever police decide to address an issue in our community, the magistrate steps in. The magistrate resolves most issues permanently, but the most serious issues, she sends up to the court of common pleas for more formal and lengthier proceedings.
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?
The magistrate oversees legal matters that are criminal, civil disputes up to $12,000.00, traffic, non-traffic, and truancy. I have years of directly relevant legal experience spanning all of the major areas of the law that the magistrate oversees. I have obtained this experience, while practicing law before the magistrate throughout the state of Pennsylvania. This experience has prepared me to understand and know the various rules of law that apply. My representation of numerous individuals has equipped me with the understanding of underlying traumas and fears associated with the judicial system. As a black female attorney, and the daughter of an immigrant, I am very much aware that bias, racism, and acts of discrimination still exist within our judicial system.
I understand what it feels like to be marginalized, to have people around me not see my full potential, to be skeptical of me and refuse to really see me just because of who I am. I still experience racial and gendered prejudice every day. Because I have that background and live in that reality, while I am not a member of the LGBTQ+ community, not Jewish or Muslim, not struggling with poverty, addiction, or mental illness, I can empathize with the experience of marginality and the weight of prejudice.
As magistrate, what can you actually do to eliminate cash bail? The MDJ can eliminate cash bail. Magistrates are supposed to assign bail conditions only when they have reason to believe that a person is likely to not appear for their scheduled hearing. But the Magistrate has many varieties of conditions available to them: cash bail is only one.
How do competitive primary elections benefit the residents of a community? Even within the Democratic party, there are a variety of political positions. In Allegheny County, where it is almost impossible to be elected as a Republican, some people who otherwise might appear to share values with the Republican party choose to define themselves as Democrats and run on the Democratic ticket. Competitive primaries allow voters to think more specifically about who represents their values, rather than to just have one choice.
What are three reasons people should vote for you/support your campaign?
1) Experience: I have years of directly relevant legal experience spanning all of the major areas of the law that the magistrate oversees.
2) Community: I have proven my investment in our communities through my public service as a Swissvale Council Member and my pro-bono work. I believe in our communities, and think the court should strengthen them, not weaken them.
3) Diversity: I am a Black woman running for judge in a county where only 2 MDJs are women of color. Given the Black population in our county, and particularly the overrepresentation of Black people among those forced to appear before our courts, it could not be more important to have a more diverse bench. This will help to address the real distrust so many people have about our courts.
Tell me about your other endorsements and supporters.
We have been endorsed by:
Steel City Stonewall Dems
AFSCME DC 84
Rep. Summer Lee
Mayor Jack Brown, Braddock Hills
Every Member of the Swissvale Council
Three Members of the Woodland Hills School Board
Four other Local Council Members
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I really appreciate your work on this! Thank you for reaching out to me and thanks for your patience as we worked on the questionnaire … running a campaign is an incredible amount of work, with so many balls in the air, and I am so honored to be considered.
Where can readers find your campaign on social media?
Readers can look at my website at https://www.scalesformagistrate.com/, and my facebook and instagram at scalesformagistrate.
Thank you, Weldianne.
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
- Q&A with Matt Dugan, Candidate for Allegheny County District Attorney
- Q&A with Corey O’Connor, Candidate for Allegheny County Controller
- Q&A with Giuseppe GC Rosselli, Candidate for Magisterial District Judge 05-3-02
- Q&A with Bob Charland, Candidate for City Council, District 3
- Q&A with Katrina Eames, Candidate for Northgate School Board Member
- Q&A with Michael Lamb, Candidate for Allegheny County Chief Executive
- Q&A with Sara Innamorato, Candidate for Allegheny County Chief Executive
- Q&A with Rachel Rosnick, Candidate for Magisterial District Judge 05-2-31
- Q&A with Bobby Wilson, Candidate for City Council, District 1
- Q&A with Weldianne Scales, Candidate for Magistrate District Judge 05-2-08
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