Stephanie chose the law because she saw its possibilities to change people’s lives for the better. Here is her story.
Stephanie worked for a veterans’ legal services program in law school and after graduation, Maryland Legal Aid hired her to head a specially funded veterans’ legal services program. Her charge was to help primarily Vietnam era vets who had been left behind: vets with less than honorable discharges who needed access to veterans benefits and to remove the stigma of that bad discharge. She also represented veterans and their widows dealing with an unyielding Veterans Administration bureaucracy, unjustly denied their benefits. Later in her tenure, she represented workers and the disabled denied federal and state benefits, like Social Security Disability, SSI and unemployment compensation, at administrative hearings, and in federal and state courts- all poor clients who had nowhere else to turn for help. Both the Mayor of Baltimore City and the Governor of Maryland awarded her citizen citations for her efforts on behalf of veterans.
Delaware County Common Pleas Court Law Clerk
When Stephanie moved to Pennsylvania, our last Democratic Court of Common Pleas Judge, Edward S. Lawhorne, tapped her to serve as his law clerk. The clerkship presented an incredible opportunity to learn from a judge respected by all. She witnessed firsthand how an engaged judge could be thoughtful and fair and at the same time positively impact the community.
A Legal Services Lawyer in Chester
After Judge Lawhorne lost his election bid, Delaware County Legal Assistance in Chester City (now Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania) hired Stephanie to revitalize their volunteer attorney program. Over five years, the several hundred attorneys she recruited represented poor clients who otherwise would have lacked legal advice and representation. The Delaware County Bar Association recognized her efforts on behalf of poor residents with the Paul Sand Award for service to the legal profession.
Magisterial District Judge 1996-2013
In 1995, Stephanie ran for and was elected Magisterial District Judge for Media, Nether Providence, and Swarthmore. She was the first Democrat and first woman elected to the position. She won re-election twice and served for 18 years. Her candidacy was motivated by her clients and their stories: disabled citizens denied benefits; domestic violence victims seeking protective orders; tenants facing eviction and homelessness; seniors ripped off by the unscrupulous, to name a few. As a judge, she was intent on listening to every litigant’s story, to ensure each had the opportunity to be heard and to offer every single litigant a fair day in court
Every day, Stephanie came to work mindful of her judicial oath but also concerned about unintended consequences on a litigant. For example, a license suspension, a collateral result of a traffic conviction, could result in the loss of a sole source of income. Eviction might result in homelessness. Truancy was a symptom of a troubled child and failure to graduate high school could lead to an unsuccessful life. Stephanie worked with litigants and the prosecution to create alternatives when all agreed a sentence might be overly harsh: a mental health or substance abuse treatment plan in a minor criminal matter; community service to a first-time defendant who faced the loss of a professional license after drinking to excess on New Year’s Eve. She took her authority to imprison defendants with great thoughtfulness, understanding that even a short stint in jail could result in loss of a job, a home and greatly impact a family. And Stephanie doggedly followed each truant child for a year or more, until that child was attending school and succeeding.
Stephanie was widely recognized as one of the finest District Judges in Delaware County. The NAACP Media Branch recognized her efforts.
Working on Behalf of Women in the Legal Profession
Several years ago, Stephanie co-founded the Delco Bar Association’s Women in the Law Committee to support women in the practice of law, create continuing legal education programs of interest for women lawyers and the bar as a whole and provide networking opportunities to support women’s legal practices. The Committee has fulfilled the Bar’s greatest expectations, with educational programs, networking opportunities, and even raising money for non-profits like Domestic Abuse Project and Legal Aid of Southeast Pennsylvania. She has chaired the Women’s Committee annual Women’s History Month lecture and brought in speakers about Human Trafficking and Alice Paul, who helped engineer the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which afforded women’s the right to vote. She currently co-chairs that committee. In 2018, she and her co-chair were awarded a special Delco Bar President’s award for her work.
A Leader of the Delco Bar
Stephanie was elected three different times to serve on the Board of Directors of the Delaware County Bar Association. When she was a judge, she CoChaired the District Judge Committee of the Bar. She currently serves as Co-Chair of the Pro Bono Committee and the Women in the Law Committee. Stephanie is also a member of the Board of Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania. She served as Secretary and two terms as Vice President of the Delaware County District Judge Association. And she served on the Board of Directors of the Domestic Abuse Project.
Mediator and Arbitrator
Since leaving the bench, Stephanie serves as a mediator and arbitrator for ADR Options in Philadelphia, a regional alternative dispute firm. She volunteers as a Judge Pro Tem at the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia, both in the Major Trials Division and in Commerce Court. She belongs to the panel of Delaware County Bar Association’s Volunteer Settlement Program, in which she helps to settle civil cases currently before Delaware County Courts. She also volunteers to mediate discrimination cases for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and for Delaware County’s Center for Resolutions, a community mediation program. She attributes her success as a mediator to her efforts to promote agreement among parties as a judge, finding common interests even where parties seem stuck on widely divergent positions. Stephanie is also a member of the Hearing Committee of the Disciplinary Board of the PA Supreme Court where she hears and makes recommendations in ethics complaints brought against attorneys and serves on the Board of the Pennsylvania Council of Mediators, a statewide organization which promotes mediation.
Instructor and Adjunct Professor
This past year, Stephanie and Ellen Morfei, her co-instructor, were honored to teach alternative dispute resolution to every magisterial district judge in Pennsylvania at their required annual continuing legal education course in Harrisburg. The course included detailed explanations of mediation and private arbitration.
Stephanie has also taught Criminal Justice Administration at St. Joseph’s University in the Criminal Justice Master’s program. Her course included topics like conflict resolution, leadership, managing employees, the courts, police, prisons, union, and discrimination law. Her students primarily came from law enforcement.
Stephanie is a graduate of State University of New York at Binghamton where she majored in History and French language. She received her law degree from the Washington College of Law, American University in Washington DC. She has been a Democrat since she first registered to vote. She lives in Wallingford with her husband. They have two adult daughters.
Support Stephanie on her mission to become judge on the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.