Lehigh legislators, officials applaud law to add judge to Court of Common Pleas

HARRISBURG, Dec. 20 – Lehigh County legislators and other officials are praising the passage and enactment of Act 58 of 2023, which adds a judge to the county’s Court of Common Pleas.

“The court is grateful to the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners, Lehigh County executive, and the Pennsylvania General Assembly for supporting the addition of an 11th judge for the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County,” said President Judge Brian Johnson, Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County. “This will greatly assist the court in addressing the continually increasing demands on the court in our growing county.”

Lehigh County’s population has grown by 20% since 2004 -- the last time a judge was added to the county bench -- which has resulted in increased demand and increased challenges and complexity of the cases before the court.

“Lehigh County has seen tremendous growth over the past several decades and this has certainly added to the caseload of the Court of Common Pleas,” Rep. Michael Schlossberg said. “Judges have become more creative and thoughtful about how they address the cases in front of them, trying to address complicated mental health and substance use factors and set people up for success. This takes time and more resources. Including an 11th judge for Lehigh County opens the door for more of that, and I think Lehigh County will benefit in the long run.”

Rep. Jeanne McNeill agreed. “When courts are backlogged and judges are stacked with a pile of cases, people struggle to get the help they need. I am glad residents of Lehigh County will have another judge to serve them.”

Based on court statistics, Lehigh has some of the highest caseloads among similar counties but has as many as five fewer judges comparatively.

“The communities we serve have pushed us hard to make the criminal justice system work better for them, Rep. Peter Schweyer said. “With another highly qualified and competent judge, we will be one step closer to that because decisions made in our courtrooms directly impact the lives of people in our districts.”

According to data from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, Lehigh County routinely ranked in the top three for civil (2nd), custody (2nd) and protection from abuse (1st, 2nd and 3rd) filings when compared to similar counties in the last five years. It also had the largest number of medical malpractice cases in that five-year comparison and ranked fifth in the number of criminal cases.

“Justice delayed is justice denied. We want the growing population of Lehigh County to be able to access the courts and obtain justice without delays. Adding an additional judge to the court is a proactive necessity,” Rep. Josh Siegel said.

The Lehigh County Board of Commissioners also supported the addition of an 11th judge.

“For the past few years, the Board of Commissioners, county executive, judges, row officers and department leaders have focused extensively on making the county’s courts and corrections functions work effectively to deliver on our nation’s promise for justice,” said Geoff Brace, chair of the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners. “An 11th judge will help tremendously in this effort. I am extremely grateful and proud this effort received bipartisan support from every member of the Lehigh County delegation in the House and Senate. This is how government should work.”

The 11th judge would be added to the court starting in January 2026, with the seat to be filled in the 2025 election.