Two Lycoming County judges announced their resignation from the county bench in 2021, one most recently in early November. This, coupled with a staffing shortage throughout county government, has led some to question the working environment within the courthouse and if it will continue to function smoothly.
Judge Marc Lovecchio announced his retirement in early 2021 and served his last day on Nov. 5. Judge Joy McCoy said she would be leaving the bench in January. Both judges are moving away from elected positions to practice law for private businesses, Lovecchio to McCormick Law Firm and McCoy to become the Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer for Little League International.
Lovecchio and McCoy each were retained for a second 10-year term in 2019, making this their 12th year on the county bench.
While Lovecchio told On the PULSE in September that he was leaving due to frustrations within the criminal justice system, he did not name specific reasons for his departure. McCoy, who served as the family and juvenile court judge, also did not state publicly why she was leaving.
“The past 12 years as a judge have been a truly rewarding experience, and it has been an honor to serve our community and support so many children and their families through some of the most traumatic, difficult moments of their lives,” McCoy said in a statement released by Little League.
However, in her resignation letter sent to county President Judge Nancy Butts, McCoy stated that while being a judge was a “dream job,” … “I have found that the things that I enjoyed about my job have been far outweighed by the things that I do not enjoy.”
She went on to state, “Unfortunately, I reached a point where it became evident to me that I could not remain in my position until the end of my term in 2029.”
Butts, who as president judge oversees the county judicial system including judges, said she was surprised that Lovecchio and McCoy decided to leave, but said she could not guess as to the reason for their departure.
“I have no idea and even if I did know something, it’s probably received in the context of a confidential communication because it’s a personnel matter, and I’m not allowed to talk about it,” Butts said.
She added that she didn’t talk to either of them about their resignation, stating that she didn’t believe she would be able to change their minds about a decision that she believed for each of them is personal.
“We’ve often had people leave in the middle of their term,” Butts said. “Nothing is going to change … we’ll just have different names (on the bench).”
The sudden departure came as a surprise to others in the court system and spurred county Sheriff Mark Lusk to send out an internal email to county department heads. In the email, with the subject line “The loss of 2 of our finest judges is a travesty,” Lusk insinuates that there are serious issues within the county court system.
“This County and its residents do not deserve what I have personally seen evolve within our Court System’s top Leadership during my 12 year tenure as Sheriff,” Lusk wrote. “Frankly, leadership begins at the very top and we have had FAILED LEADERSHIP(sic) in our Court system at the very top for far too long.”
Lusk went on to say that this will put excess strain on the court system and, while not calling out Butts by name, he stressed the need for changes within the court’s top leadership.
Butts said she was disappointed by the letter, first that it was sent out to department heads and second that it made its way to the public. She stressed that her door is always open and said that if Lusk had specific things he wanted to talk with her about he could have done so.
“In my world, when the sheriff has a problem he comes to me, or he comes to the court administration,” she said. “My door is always open.”
Lusk could not be reached for comment about the email as of press time.
Lovecchio and McCoy each oversaw count- level programs and served on statewide committees. McCoy is instrumental in bringing awareness to domestic violence cases through the Domestic Violence Review Team, as well as encouraging youth programs through the Youth Attendance Court, which she and Lovecchio started together.
Lovecchio also has been an outspoken activist against opioid addiction, being recently selected to solely represent Pennsylvania judges at a national opioid awareness training seminar.
Butts acknowledged the impact Lovecchio and McCoy have had in the country court system, but added that the future of the county court is not in jeopardy.
“They’ve each in their own way have made significant contributions that can’t be minimized,” Butts said, but added that “my collected staff and the court administration office roll with the waves. We go with the flow and we make certain that continuity is uninterrupted.”
Senior judges Dudley N. Anderson and Kenneth D. Brown will fill in for Lovecchio and McCoy, once she leaves the bench in January. Butts said at present she doesn’t expect new judges to be appointed, but instead there will be two open seats for the 2023 election.
According to state judicial law, a judge position that is vacated midterm, must remain vacant for 10 months before being filled, and elections for judge are held on odd years.
In addition to limited judges, there are staffing shortages in departments throughout the county, Court administration and the county public defender’s office, according to Director of Court Services Jennifer McConnell.
“All of the system is experiencing a staffing shortage,” McConnell said, but added that “I feel like the courts are positioned to move ahead progressively.”