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Laywer representing woman suing Judge Doerr announces intent to run for judge
A lawyer representing the woman suing President Judge Thomas Doerr announced her intention to run for judge in the court next year, calling the current court system a monarchy plagued by nepotism under Doerr.
Jennifer Gilliland Vanasdale, 48, a founding member of a law firm based in Butler and a lawyer representing Crystal Starnes, said she plans to pursue both the Democratic and Republican nominations in next year’s primary.
Her client, Starnes, a Butler County probation officer, filed a federal lawsuit against Doerr and others, alleging sexual misconduct and workplace discrimination,
“I believe that I’m the most qualified,” the Butler resident said of her run for the judgeship. “I’ve learned the skills to be efficient and effective. I really enjoy working hard for the people.”
If elected, she would replace Judge Marilyn Horan, who recently left Butler’s court system for a federal appointment to the U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh.
Gilliland Vanasdale founded the firm Gilliland Vanasdale Sinatra Law Office 17 years ago.
Before that, Gilliland Vanasdale worked with Nationwide Insurance in downtown Butler, where she started in 1993 after graduating from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She began working in Nationwide’s insurance claims department and made her way up to claims that involved lawsuits. She continued working full time with Nationwide while attending Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh, where she would commute between school and work at least four times a week.
“I take such joy in this work,” Gilliland Vanasdale said of the practice of law. “I truly believe that justice is blind and it should be administered with the utmost integrity. That’s what brought me to make this decision.”
Gilliland Vanasdale will spend the rest of this year transferring her cases to other lawyers in her firm as she focuses on the election.
“It was a tough decision,” Gilliland Vanasdale said about stepping down. “But I felt that it was important for the community to have my skills in the court and on the bench in general.”
Addressing her claim of nepotism in the Butler’s court system, she pointed out that Doerr’s wife, who is an attorney, was appointed in family court as a paid Guardian Ad Litem; someone who reviews cases related to custody. Doerr was unavailable for comment Friday.
While at Nationwide and then with the law firm, the Butler High School alumnus said she has “seen people’s work ethic, and I believe they deserve that same work ethic” in the court.
“That’s why I was so troubled with the events of this past year,” she continued. “No one is above the law. No one should abuse their power.”
Gilliland Vanasdale said she sees her client’s allegations against the president judge as indicative of a flawed court system.
“I want to have transparency,” she said. “I want everyone to have a fair shake and not be about who you know. I think it’s best to have checks and balances.”
At least one other individual is preparing to declare a candidacy for the vacant judge position. County common pleas judges serve 10-year terms in Pennsylvania.
Attorney Jennifer Gilliland Vanasdale was recently quoted in the Butler Eagle in an article involving the federal legal case against Butler County’s President Judge Thomas Doerr:
Attorney Gary T. Vanasdale negotiated a favorable resolution in a highly publicized case:
Our law office has expanded and opened a satellite office across from the Butler County Courthouse! Please see the front page article in the Butler Eagle regarding our expansion and contribution to the development and renovation to downtown Butler:
Our office was involved in a highly complex Juvenile/Family Court matter in Butler County. Please see below for more information:
We are pleased to report that since litigation in this matter was concluded, the parents and their children involved have been reunited as one family. The case has been closed in the juvenile court system.
Our office, led by Attorney Jennifer Gilliland Vanasdale, coordinated the High School Mock Trial Competition sponsored by the Pennsylvania Bar Association for 10 years.
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