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Prepared By: Betsy Wahl Phone/Email:

Campaign Manager: Bill Dolbow Phone/Email:

Candidate Name: Betsy Wahl Campaign Address:

Campaign Email: Campaign Website: ​

I,​ ​____________________________________________________, certify that the information

provided on this questionnaire is accurate and the opinions stated here accurately reflect my own

Please complete, sign and return this via email in Word Doc format​ ​on or before February 13,

The Judicial Accountability Table (JAT) is a coalition comprised of Philadelphia community

organizations working to bring more fairness to our courts. The JAT’s platform is available at​. We’ve written this questionnaire to be
values-driven and focused on the issues most relevant to the people of Philadelphia, and we’ve
made our questions compliant with the Code of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.​1​ ​We ask
that you use no more than 250 words to respond to each question.
Thank you for taking the time to complete our questionnaire, and we look forward to your
response. ​The members and supporters of the JAT include:

Specifically the following section of 207 ​Pa. Code § 4.1, Political and Campaign Activities of Magisterial District Judges and
Judicial Candidates in General:
The making of a pledge, promise, or commitment is not dependent upon, or limited to, the use of any specific words or phrases;
instead, the totality of the statement must be examined to determine whether the candidate for judicial office has specifically
undertaken to reach a particular result. Pledges, promises, or commitments must be contrasted with statements or
announcements of personal views on legal, political, or other issues, which are not prohibited. When making such statements, a
magisterial district judge should acknowledge the overarching judicial obligation to apply and uphold the law, without regard to
his or her personal views.

As well as the following section of ​207 ​Pa. Code § 4.2, Political and Campaign Activities of Judicial Candidates in Public

A judge who is a candidate for elective judicial office shall not make any statement that would reasonably be expected to affect
the outcome or impair the fairness of a matter pending or impending in any court.
Reclaim Philadelphia ICE out of Courts
LILAC DecarceratePA
215 People's Alliance Free the Ballot
Philadelphia Bail Fund One PA
Philadelphia Community Bail Fund Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks
Youth Art and Self-Empowerment Project Abolitionist Law Center
Amistad Law Project Democratic First Ward
Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration #No215Jail Coalition


1. What are your top three priorities if you are elected judge?

My number one priority would be to run a fair and just courtroom, where parties always

feel heard, and know that my decisions are without bias, respectful, and never retributive.

Second, to ensure that my courtroom is a model for reducing mass incarceration by

utilizing all possible alternatives to detention. Third, to ensure that no one who appears

before me would be burdened by excessive lengths and conditions for probation and

parole. Micromanaging people is demoralizing and excessively restrictive; and often a set

up for failure.

2. Do you feel that implicit bias plays a role in our courts? If so, how do you think it

should be addressed?

Absolutely. Judges and lawyers need to be educated on implicit bias using real world

examples. This education needs to be ongoing and include diversity training and

multiculturalism. Guidelines must be established for judges to check themselves for

implicit bias with evidence-based standards. Stakeholders should observe courtrooms,

and judges should be open to feedback regarding bias.

3. What if anything would you do as a judge to assure that neither your courtroom

staff nor litigants are faced with racist or sexist behavior?

I would lead by example. My staff would be diverse, and I would conduct courtroom

business by consistently focusing on “justice for all”, not justice for some. Anything less

would not be tolerated.

4. Do you believe police misconduct is a problem in our criminal justice system? How

so? What role, if any, do the courts have in addressing this issue?

Police misconduct is absolutely an issue. The courts have a duty to ensure that police are

held accountable for misconduct. For decades, police officers have been protected by

their uniform. In court, those officers have testified with a presumption of honesty by

virtue of the job. It must be made clear to the court, and to juries, that the uniform does

not necessarily equate with honesty and integrity. Every witness’s testimony, officer or

not, must be evaluated individually. When officers engage in misconduct, they must be


5. In the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other unarmed

Black people by police, Philadelphia protesters have criticized the outsized PPD

budget while communities face massive divestment of resources. A 2019 study from

PICA suggested that the city could save over $7 million by making changes to

reduce police court overtime. What role, if any, do the courts have in addressing this


Courtrooms must run efficiently. If all our courtrooms were organized, and efficient, we
could practically eliminate police court overtime. That means that courtrooms would start

on time, the judges and staff would be well prepared, and delays would not be tolerated.

The PPD budget would be substantially reduced, and resources could be diverted. (Note

that I run a very busy courtroom and hear over 200 cases a week with no problem.)

6. Do you think our criminal justice system works? Why, or why not? If you think

there is something wrong with how it operates, name three ways you would work to

change it as a judge.

Yes and no. The system is designed to deliver justice for all. If everything works, it

should do that. There are far more than three changes needed, but I will list three (all are

addressed in your other questions). One ​—​ speedy trials. Far too many people are waiting

months or years to have their matters heard. I would not tolerate delays in my courtroom.

Two ​—​ excessive probation and parole. Far too many people are living under oppressive

limitations on their freedom. I would cut down time on probation or parole. Three ​—

alternatives to incarceration are needed. In juvenile court I use many alternatives. That

practice must be court wide.

7. One in three Philadelphians has a criminal record. In your opinion, how can judges

support successful community re-entry?

Judges can give returning citizens the support they need to be successful. By setting

people up these with evidence-based, quality re-entry programs and mentors, success will

come. Relationships are the key to a successful re-entry. I have seen that approach work

in Juvenile Court. Whether it be with a teacher, the judge, a probation officer, an

advocate, or most often- a combination of all, a strong re-entry team makes the difference

between success and failure.

8. Have you or anyone close to you ever been incarcerated? If yes, please share how it

impacted that person or you, and how it would affect your work as a judge. If no,

how do you take into consideration the impact of the decision to incarcerate

someone without having personal experience.

Yes. I ran for judge in 2015. During that time, I met and became close to a returned

citizen who worked on my campaign. He was an invaluable campaign worker and

became a dear friend. He was re-arrested toward the end of my campaign for an incident

that occurred in 2012. He was sentenced to three years, in spite of the fact that he was

employed, and crime-free from his release in 2013 to his incarceration in 2015. How can

the system justify a three-year sentence for a father, husband, law-abiding, tax paying

citizen, for something that happened years before? During his three years incarcerated at

SCI Coal Township, I supported him by visits, calls, letters, and family support. I picked

him up on the day of his release in 2019, and since that time, he has been home, gainfully

employed, and a good father to his two children. I frequently think about the impact those

three years had on his life and that of his children, noting that he served those three years

for something he did years before. Incarceration is never to be taken lightly and should

never be automatic after a conviction. My friend was a perfect candidate for an

alternative to detention. I would also like to note that I have visited our juvenile

placements on my own time, and at my own expense. I feel that it is imperative that I

know and understand where I am potentially sending a juvenile before I make such a
consequential decision.

9. Individuals held on probation detainers account for over 50% of the city’s jail

population, and individuals are often held without signed judicial warrants. What

do you think of this?

I think it is outrageous. I would abolish that practice in my courtroom. If one of my

probationers had a detainer automatically lodged against him/her, I would institute a

protocol whereby that individual would come before me the following day for a detainer

hearing. We are holding far too many people on detainers for new arrests without a new


10. Philadelphia is at the center of the opioid crisis. In order to prevent more deaths,

advocates have worked on harm reduction initiatives including needle exchange

programs, Narcan distribution, and overdose prevention sites. What can judges do

to help expand and protect programs to combat the opioid crisis and continue to

reduce harm? How do you feel about the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

overturning the lower court’s decision that made safe injection sites in Philadelphia


Judges can embrace and make use of all such programs, as detention alternatives. In

addition to saving lives, such programs reduce the crime that too often comes with

addiction. Addiction is a disease and should never be criminalized. I am in favor of safe

injection sites. They are a commonsense part of the solution to the opioid crisis. I feel that

the Courts of Appeals interpretation of a 1986 “crack house” law was totally misguided.
11. According to a 2019 report from the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform

(NCCPR), Philadelphia now leads the country in removing children and placing

them in foster care. What do you see as the long term effects of this? What can

judges do about this?

Foster care can have profound negative effects on children’s mental and emotional health

and development, education, physical health, and social well-being. Judges must always

put the best interests of the child first. They must be diligent in a search for kinship

placements if removal is necessary. Judges must also be educated and use every tool

available to put needed services in homes to assist parents and families when necessary,

with the goal of keeping families intact.

12. How would you factor in a parent's drug history or criminal record in dealing with

a custody matter?

Of course, a parent’s drug history and/or criminal record must be taken into consideration

in a custody matter. However, it should never exclude a parent outright. The details

matter ​—​ as long as a child’s safety is not compromised, an imperfect parent is better

than a stranger.

13. Have you experienced or known someone who was subject to domestic violence?

What do you think the court's role should be in intervening in such situations?

Yes. When I was a Public Defender, I represented a teenage girl who poisoned her

grandfather and was charged with attempted murder. As it turned out, she had been
sexually and physically abused by him for years, although she was not threatened at the

moment she put the bleach in his soda. As her lawyer, it was my duty to present the full

picture to the court. As a judge, it is the courts duty to hear the full story, which is usually

far more complex than the few minutes presented by the Commonwealth. In addition, it is

imperative that my client (and others like her) are seen as victims, not perpetrators. In my

case, I was able to prevent my client from having a criminal record and remove her from

the dangerous household into a safe situation.

14. Noncitizens may face mandatory deportation if convicted of certain offenses. Do you

think it is appropriate for prosecutors, judges, and criminal defense attorneys to

work together to resolve cases in ways that avoid disproportionate immigration

consequences? Would you accept immigration-neutral plea agreements and/or

sentence defendants to allow them to avoid deportation?

Absolutely. I have had ICE outside my courtroom, waiting to take juveniles into custody

as they left the courtroom. I have successfully avoided that outcome and will do

everything I can to do so in the future. I would support a policy of keeping ICE out of the

courts without warrants. The judiciary must be mindful of the consequences of an

adjudication or conviction for an undocumented person. I would use every alternative to

an adjudication or conviction possible, knowing that the consequences could be

devastating, and perhaps even life-threatening otherwise. Deportation is a real

consequence of a conviction and far worse than what the judge may have intended for

someone who happened to be born here.

15. Do you personally know anyone who is undocumented? If yes, how would this

experience shape your work as a judge? If no, how can you make decisions affecting

undocumented community members without this personal experience?

Yes. I have an undocumented friend from Brazil. I am well aware of the hardships she

faces, including the inability to get a license or to call the police if she is in danger. In

addition, I have had many undocumented juveniles come through my courtroom. I feel,

as a Hearing Officer (and hopefully as a future judge), it is my job to protect those

juveniles from the harm that could come to them due to being undocumented.

16. 86% of women who enter the Philadelphia courts have experienced some form of

trauma, and this is especially true for Black women. How would such trauma

inform your decision-making as a judge? Would you consider alternatives to

incarceration for people who have experienced trauma, and if so, what types of

alternatives? What practices have you seen used that you appreciate?

Compared to men, women in the criminal justice system have experienced far greater

rates of mental illness, sexual and physical abuse, substance abuse and trauma. In

addition, many of these women have children, so their incarceration can be devastating. I

use all options available without incarceration, including trauma informed supportive

counseling and mentoring programs. Giving women access to these programs, and the

relationships that can be fostered as a result, can be very effective. Trauma victims need

to feel safe and able to build trust in those around them. Incarceration only exacerbates

trauma and solves nothing.

17. Current PA state law allows children under 18 to be prosecuted as adults in some

cases, despite growing efforts locally and nationally to remove children from the

adult system. Do you believe that children should ever be treated legally as adults?

Please explain. What, in your view, are the long-term impacts of incarcerating

children in adult jails and prisons?

Children should not be treated legally as adults. The impact of sending children to adult

jails and prisons is disastrous. These youth are denied an education, at far greater risk for

sexual and physical victimization, denied mental health services, at much higher risk of

self-harm and suicide, and more likely to re-offend upon release.

18. According to, in 2016 Philadelphia led the country in eviction rates

at 3.84%, 1.14% higher than the national average. Today, as a result of the

COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment is at a record high and an even greater

eviction and foreclosure avalanche is looming. ​Adding to the problem, there is a

sharp disparity in representation between landlords (who are usually represented)

and tenants (who are usually unrepresented) in eviction disputes. What would you

do as a judge to stop the eviction and foreclosure crisis?​ ​How can judges support the

implementation of the Right to Counsel legislation to ensure fair representation?

Eviction causes families to be expelled from their communities as well as their homes. It

also causes children to change schools, families to lose jobs, and results in severe

emotional and financial distress. Judges must be mindful of the tremendous cost of

eviction to families and to communities. They must be sure that tenants are represented

by lawyers, and assist in implementing settlements between the parties to avoid eviction.
19. Have you or someone close to you ever been evicted or foreclosed on? If yes, please

explain and describe how this experience would affect your work as a judge. If no,

how would you make decisions that impact the community without this personal


In my 20 years as a Hearing Officer, I deal with many families who have been evicted. I

am constantly mindful of the effects that it has on the youth in my courtroom. On the

surface, I may have a child who is truant, using illegal drugs, out all night, and/or

committing new crimes. When I learn that his or her family has been evicted, I can see

the youth’s issues through a different lens. Losing a home is traumatic enough for adults,

let alone children. The behaviors exhibited are understood differently under those

circumstances and I use the resources available to me to support these youths as much as


20. Regardless of whether the landlord or tenant ‘wins’ an eviction case or if the case is

ultimately dismissed, an eviction ​filing ​by a landlord leads to a permanent public

record that any future landlord can view online. There are close to 24,000 eviction

filings a year and tenants often have issues renting because of the record. What is

the court’s role, if any, in addressing this obstacle for tenants?

An eviction filing or record should be subject to expungement and sealing. Those records

can have devastating effects on tenants contributing to continued poverty and housing

insecurity. I would welcome the opportunity to seal such records. I support the eviction

expungement bill. It is even more urgent that we pass such a bill amidst the current

21. Are you a landlord? If yes, how many rental properties do you own?​ No.

22. The majority of consumer debt collection cases are filed by corporate debt buyers

against unrepresented defendants and result in default judgments. What is the role

of the judiciary in ensuring due process for unrepresented defendants in these civil


Defendants in these matters must be represented. There are numerous things that, by law,

a debt collector may and may not do. There is no way an unrepresented defendant could

navigate that system alone. As a judge, I would find attorneys willing to work pro-bono

in such cases.

23. In a 2015 analysis, ProPublica found that the rate of judgments stemming from

consumer debt cases was twice as high in mostly Black neighborhoods as it was in

mostly white ones. What role should the judiciary play in addressing these racial


Black households are generally worse off financially than white households. Debt

collection judgments are only making the disparity worse. Reforms are needed. The

income level for garnishment needs to be significantly lowered. Debtors must be

represented by counsel.

24. What role should judges play in making courts more transparent and accessible to
members of the community? What will you commit to do if elected judge?

Courtrooms must be transparent. The public should be welcome to observe. I am mindful

of the situation in Family Court several years ago, when due process was being denied in

a certain courtroom.

25. What avenues will the Philadelphia community have to hold you accountable to the

values that you express during your campaign, if you are elected?

I understand that there are ethical boundaries that prevent the judiciary from discussing

individual cases with the community. I would, however, be permitted to discuss policies

and values in general, and would welcome such discussions. We are all learning, every

day. I always welcome constructive criticism and consider it a gift and opportunity for


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