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Chester County Press

Candidate wants to create a County courtroom of mutual respect

05/12/2015 12:38PM ● By Richard Gaw
John Carnes, Jr. grew up in the City of Philadelphia.

When he was 12 years old, he found himself as one of five siblings moving from the city streets with his parents to a 180-acre farm in West Fallowfield Township.

Such a drastic change in scenery can have a stifling effect on a young person, but for the young Carnes, it was baptism by fire. He lived in a farmhouse that had very little heat, and in order to keep warm during winter nights, he slept beneath four inches of blankets. He performed manual labor on the farm; milking cows, bailing hay, and shearing sheep. He and his siblings all signed a covenant to do so. A new life had begun.

How did Carnes do? In countrified terminology, the city kid had taken to the country like a duck to water.

Adapting quickly to transitions like this have helped defined Carnes' 29 years as one of Chester County's toughest prosecutors, enabling him to stay on point with a variety of clients ranging from corporations to small businesses to individuals, and from land use to civil trials to domestic relations.

Now, as he campaigns for the role of a judge on the Chester County Court of Common Pleas, Carnes feels it will help him transition from the role of prosecutor to the role of arbitrator.

"The job of a lawyer is to remove the problems and get solutions and fix things within the legal parameters," Carnes said. "I've seen so many attorneys go from being tough prosecutors to ascending to the bench and become an open-minded, fair judge balancing both sides, evenly. In this new role, I would be dedicated to an even-handed approach to both parties, as opposed to being an advocate for one party."

After graduating from the Villanova School of Law in 1986 – where his father was once a professor – Carnes embarked on a legal career that has been defined by its diversity. He clerked for the Hon. James Gardner Collins in the Commonwealth Court. He worked for the Public Defender's Office of Chester County. He has been both a solo practitioner and been associated with some of the top law firms in the County. He has served as solicitor on the township, borough, city and zoning hearing board levels. Since 2008, his solo practice works out of offices in West Chester and Parkesburg.

If elected, Carnes said that one of the key missions of his position on the bench would be to establish a Court of Common Pleas that is respectful of both attorneys and participants on trial or in a proceeding.

"The judge in a courtroom has a great deal of power, and everybody who comes to him or her is looking to be treated with respect," he said. "It's really important that the judge be a humble person, and not allow ego to get in the way. Initially, the position of a judge is very intimidating, so it's important that the judge reach out to the people and make everybody feel comfortable. I've seen a lot of judges do a wonderful job of this, and that's what I hope to aspire to.

I would bring collegiality, and be a team player in cooperation with the other judges," he added. "I wouldn't come in believing I could change the system, but come in knowing that I have the power to understand the law."

Carnes believes that creating a comfortable courtroom of mutual respect is only one aspect of being

an effective member of the Court of Common Pleas. The other, he said, is diligent expedition – keeping the case load from bogging down the court.

"It's a job that you have to come to by way of establishing a strategy," he said. "One complaint that I hear is, 'Why isn't this case being settled of resolved more quickly?' I would formulate an approach that would help the Court make sure that none of the cases we arbitrate languish. I am a good negotiator and I am straight-forward approach with people, but I am pushy and aggressive at times in order to get my client the best deal he or she can get. I would try to bring these same approach on the Court, in order to move cases forward."

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail [email protected].