Mountaintop resident Richard M. Hughes, III was sworn in as the Luzerne County Commonwealth Court President Judge before an overflowing courtroom Tuesday December 30, 2014. Hughes was elected to the bench in 2011 with five other judges and is the only Republican judge currently on the Luzerne County Court.
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Correale Stevens, a native of Sugarloaf Township, administered the oath of office, and noted that as Luzerne County District Attorney in 1988, he hired Hughes as an assistant district attorney. Hughes wife Ruth and his three children Callie, Ellen and Richard stood with him as he swore his oath.
Current and senior judges and a number of district magistrates joined in the ceremony honoring Hughes, who was elected unanimously to the 5 year term in late November 2014.
Judge Hughes, 53, of Mountain Top, succeeds Judge Thomas F. Burke as the head of the county judiciary. A new president judge must be selected every five years. The president judge controls judicial assignments as well as hiring in several branches of the court, including probation services and domestic relations. The county court system’s combined budget is around $20 million.
Burke served his five-year term in the aftermath of the corruption investigation and Kids for Cash scandal that saw four Luzerne County judges lose their positions. Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan were both president judges and are now serving lengthy prison sentences for their crimes. Michael Toole was indicted on corruption charges and Peter Paul Olszewski did not survive a retention election in 2009.
Pennsylvania Bar Association President Francis O’Connor reminded those present that Judge Burke had restored the reputation of the Luzerne County bench during his five-year term and that the future looks bright.
President Judge Hughes in his post-induction remarks praised Burke and said, “If we as judges were to give a most valuable person award today, it would undoubtedly go to Judge Thomas Burke. The new president judge then made a pledge on behalf of himself and the bench to “safeguard the rights of the people,” and provide for a “fair and even playing field” for everyone in Luzerne County.