In 1989, I was 34 years old when I was first elected to the state trial bench by the people of Erie, Pennsylvania, a population of about 250,000. My campaign committee included my family and friends, especially my former students at Penn State Behrend Campus in Erie, and were dubbed by the local newspaper as “Stephanie’s Army.”
As a judicial candidate, I would go door to door meeting with my voters, attending many banquets and events, and shaking many constituents’ hands so I could discuss with them the position of trial judge. I especially loved meeting my constituents at bowling alleys and bingo events, where people would take the time to meet me during intervals of the games. I would hand them my card of qualifications with a piece of candy attached. As constituents would untwist the candy wrappers from the cards with my credentials, I would greet them with “I am Stephanie—without a hitch—Domitrovich” to have them remember my name. They would smile, for my name is clearly long and ethnic—Croatian. I then had the opportunity to inform them about my qualifications and answer their questions. While campaigning, I had to practice law during the day in order to have a paycheck to pay for the campaign expenses. At night, I would prepare speeches and on weekends participate in parades waving to the throngs of people in the crowds. When I was elected, I became the first female judge in my jurisdiction of Erie.
I am a state trial court judge of general jurisdiction in the Court of Common Pleas of Pennsylvania. There are 60 judicial districts, 53 comprising one of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, and seven comprising two counties. Each district has from 1 to 93 judges. As a trial judge in Pennsylvania, I was initially elected to a 10-year term, and thereafter I was retained for two additional 10-year terms. As a general jurisdiction judge, I am authorized by law to do everything from divorce to capital cases. This makes my daily life as a trial judge very busy. For instance, in Erie, trial judges are generally assigned to one of two divisions—Trial Division and Family/Orphans’ Court Division. In either division, I preside over morning “Motion Court,” wherein the parties provide notice to the opposing side for emergency motions as well as uncontested motions. I also handle bench warrant reviews, bond reductions, and extradition hearings when I serve in the Trial Division Motion Court.