All in the family and not in a good way

I bet you saw that title and thought, “Oh! I bet this is a West Virginia post!”

Ba-ba-BAH! Try the veal!

But it’s not about West Virginia; it’s about nepotism in the local court system as revealed by Post-Gazette.

Jobs are scarce. Good jobs are scarcer. Unless you know a particular judge, apparently.

Walk in to Allegheny County President Judge Donna Jo McDaniel’s courtroom on any given day, and you will likely encounter her tipstaff, who also serves as her executive assistant and just happens to be her daughter.

If you need to inquire about jury service, you could speak with the assistant director of jury operations — Judge McDaniel’s son-in-law.

And if he can’t help you out, you could talk to his boss in the county office building: Judge McDaniel’s other daughter.

And, in the event you need information about paying costs or restitution for pretrial services, you could speak with Jud McDaniel’s other son-in-law.

No fewer than four relatives of the top judge in the county work for the court system.

My goodness. There’s nepotism and then there’s starting a torrid affair with nepotism.

And there’s more!

• Judge Paul F. Lutty Jr., whose wife is his judicial secretary;

• Judge Donald E. Machen, whose wife is his law clerk;

• Judge Joseph M. James, whose son is his tipstaff;

• Judge W. Terrence O’Brien, whose brother is his tipstaff;

• Judge Dwayne Woodruff, whose daughter is his law clerk;

• Judge John T. McVay Jr., whose sister-in-law is his secretary.

But it’s okay.

I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that the most qualified candidates for all of these positions just happened to be the judges’ relatives.

Life is just kismet-y like that sometimes.


  1. Lindsay
    January 27, 2012 10:21 am

    Hmm…sounds a lot like school districts…

    • Silica
      January 27, 2012 3:05 pm

      School districts were immediately what I thought of reading this. If I had a dollar for the number of times I was one of the final candidates for a teaching position, and the other candidate was somebody’s influential relative, and he or she got the job instead of me…I’d be able to buy a monster-sized overpriced coffee and not feel guilty about it.

      (When it had happened once, I thought – OK, could be a coincidence. Plus I had gotten that far so clearly I was hirable. But when it had happened no less than five times I got really, really cranky about only coming in to sub for these people – not to mention a little skeptical whenever I was signing a district-specific no-nepotism pledge on an employment application.)

      On the flipside, clearly, I need to ditch doing the honorable thing and start bugging my government-employee husband to get me a job. :P

  2. bluzdude
    January 27, 2012 10:53 am

    What is a ‘tipstaff’ and does it have anything to do with performing a circumcision?

    • Butcher's Dog
      January 27, 2012 4:21 pm

      Circumscision? Thanks, bluzdude. Nice final image to leave us going into the weekend.

  3. Erin
    January 27, 2012 11:33 am

    Ugh, this made me ill when I read it. I’d like to hear from McDaniel’s daughters and sons-in-law. Do you feel proud of yourselves? Are you okay with having your mom, or especially your mother-in-law, as your BOSS?

    With all the qualified unemployed people out there.

  4. Katrina
    January 27, 2012 12:06 pm

    So qualified they didn’t even need to advertise for the jobs! How amazing is that.

    The original article from a few weeks ago had McDaniel and her daughters posing proudly in her kitchen. I couldn’t believe it that they WANTED to advertise the fact that they participate in rampant nepotism.

  5. Jimbo
    January 27, 2012 12:43 pm

    Don’t forget about Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, who employed her sister. Her sister was charged with using her government time to work on Joan’s campaign for Supreme Court.

  6. Aileen
    January 27, 2012 1:13 pm

    @bluzdude –

    A tipstaff is a court employee who assists with the jury (getting them in and out of the courtroom, checking to make sure they all turn up for trial once selected) and other in-court functions.

    For instance, the tipstaff usually opens court before the judge takes the bench – “All rise, the Honorable Virginia Montanez presiding. God save the Commonwealth and this Honorable court.”

    They have other duties – but basically, they are like an usher for the court.

  7. MattDC
    January 27, 2012 1:16 pm

    American justice: Swift, blind, and dispensed over Thanksgiving dinner.

  8. Errie
    January 27, 2012 1:50 pm

    I don’t have a problem with nepotism in the private sector. If you own a business and hire a relative – that’s your perogative. If they are bad at the job the business will suffer. HOWEVER, these are highly sought after jobs in the public sector – paid with tax dollars. I can’t believe there are not rules preventing judges from employing their families with jobs paid by tax payers. The fact that these judges seem totally oblivious to how inappropriate and badly this looks blows my mind and makes me question their….judgment? Bad pun sorry. You NEVER see federal judges pulling crap like this by the way.

  9. Moxie Bestos
    January 27, 2012 2:43 pm

    I was a tipstaff for two years, and yes, it started out all about nepotism. Reporters always missed me in these newspaper exposes (this is maybe the third in the last decade) because my last name wasn’t the same as my judge’s. That article also missed a lot of family members whose names are different, or who are related to one judge but work for another.

    I think I’ve just made it worse.

    Anyway, I wish I could explain that not all nepotism appointments are suspect (me! I mean it! and Judge O’Brien’s brother is a great guy), but I probably can’t in a way that will be satisfactory, especially in the light of Judge McDaniel’s situation. Instead, I will say that as a tipstaff, I shepherded jurors, coordinated with court reporters, swore in witnesses, told jokes during sidebars to try to keep the jurors from trying to hear what was going on at sidebar, poured water, shuffled papers, watered plants, and had fun “sweating the light,” which was when you waited for the jurors to tell you that they were done deliberating. I carried a piece of paper that had the OED’s definition of “tipstaff” to explain where the word came from. I had an awesome badge and excellent health insurance, but the pay was mediocre. We were at-will employees, so our judges could fire us at any time for no reason. It wasn’t glamorous. It was more often boring and repetitive. And imagine trying to make life smooth for 12 people who clearly don’t want to be there.

    More importantly, as I still try to justify it all, it was a stepping stone to a better court job later, which I got because of competency.

    But I do get it. You’re not wrong. But it’s more than that. And I’m finished now.

    • bucdaddy
      January 28, 2012 3:01 am

      So I gotta ask: Is it good etiquette to tip the tipstaff?

      • Butcher's Dog
        January 28, 2012 12:23 pm

        Only if you’re going to tip the entire staff.

        • Moxie Bestos
          January 28, 2012 2:18 pm

          Never heard that one before. :) No tipping one staff, no tipping the entire staff. Ethically problematic and all. Never turned down a donut, though.

  10. Bulldog
    January 27, 2012 3:08 pm

    I will say that having served last March for a full week on a homicide trial, that the tipstaff who herded us around (no one mentioned on here – different judge altogether) and took care of us for a week was thoroughly helpful, and totally professional! He made the entire experience a positive one. I was quite impressed with his performance that week.

  11. gunnlino
    January 27, 2012 4:03 pm

    The sad part of it is that it has been going on for so many years that it has become part of the fabric of the ‘Burgh and everyone accepts it as such . Will anyone ever do anything about it ? NOT !
    It’s too ingrained in the way business is done here . Try getting a job with the City , the County , the Port Authority , not gonna happen unless your’e related to someone .

  12. Megan M.
    January 27, 2012 4:07 pm

    Interestingly, the article also says this:

    “Judge McDaniel’s oldest daughter, Lindsay Hildenbrand, was recently promoted to the newly created position of director of jury operations, earning $56,511 per year.

    In that job, she oversees nine employees and is responsible for ensuring that the jury system functions properly.”

    It doesn’t sound like these are particularly good jobs. She supervises 9 people and only makes $56K a year? That’s less than a lot of our city bus drivers.

  13. JW
    January 27, 2012 4:43 pm

    And which political party do all these judges belong to? Another hallowed western pa. tradtiion. When will people wake up and realize what’s happening?

  14. Dr Kevlar
    January 27, 2012 5:13 pm

    Nepotism? In local government? Shocking!

    Nice to see the Post Gazette wake up and realize that there might be a story there. Next thing you know they will reveal that City of Pittsburgh Fire Bureau walks with a collective limp from all of the inbreeding…

  15. BeckyS
    January 28, 2012 6:24 am

    So much for getting a job based on your talents, skills, or education. Why did I waste my money sending my kids to college?

  16. Dr Kevlar
    January 28, 2012 11:00 am

    Perhaps using the knowledge acquired in college, they will meet and marry someone from the “right” family! One needs an advanced education to discern future opportunities, after all.

  17. MattDC
    January 28, 2012 11:25 am

    I have to assume the entire story is some kind of a gag. Nepotism in government is bad; neportism in the judiciary is several degrees worse. This sounds like an old Dukes of Hazzard episode. I can’t believe there haven’t been numerous mistrials, sending dozens of miscreants back to the street. Thanks for the list; in case I ever have to appear in Allegheny Common Pleas, I’ll have the motion for disqualification in my brief case.

  18. know it all
    January 31, 2012 12:41 am

    Judge Woodruff should not be on this list. His lawyer daughter’s work for him is only temporary. I happen to know that Judge Woodruff’s law clerk (non-relative) left him recently to accept a clerk position with a federal judge.
    Also, Common Pleas Court law clerks are part-time positions and Woodruff’s daughter still has her own practice which she will return to full time once he hires a permanent law clerk again.