Judge who has had to earn everything, hoping to become PA Supreme Court Justice


Rebecca Beckas

On November 2nd, Democratic Judge Maria McLaughlin will be on the ballot running for a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. McLaughlin prides herself on the hard work and determination she had to get to where she is today.

Being the first in her family to attend college, she values the education she earned, having attended Penn State on a partial cheerleading scholarship to then continue her studies of law at Widener University Delaware Law School.

Just to get herself through Penn State, McLaughlin worked three jobs. In her third year of law school, the position of a clerk for the presidential judge of the superior court was posted, and she got the job.

Twenty six years later, she was elected to that very same court as a judge.

Out of law school, her very first job was in the District Attorney’s office. She only made $24,000 a year, but she worked her way from the bottom of that office to being one of the youngest female chiefs ever appointed in the history of Philadelphia. In that office, she had the opportunity to fight for something that’s always been a passion of hers: children.

Then, McLaughlin being a divorced single mother of two sons who depended on her, she was faced with the tough decision of giving up her only job as a lawyer in order to run for another position.

“The scariest thing I ever had to do as a prosecutor was not prosecute anybody, it was resigning to run for judge of the court of common pleas in Philadelphia,” she said.

I am a person who never thought I would be an elected official, let alone a statewide elected official of Pennsylvania…I wear my black robe not for me, but for everybody, all of Pennsylvania.

— Maria McLaughlin

Weeks later, her mom was diagnosed with cancer. Even though she had quit her job in order to run, McLaughlin decided she was not going to circulate the petitions for signatures she needed to get on the ballot in order to take care of her mother instead. Her mother, though, had not given up hope, and was determined for her daughter’s name to appear on that ballot.

Having just undergone an aggressive chemotherapy treatment, with no hair on her head, her mother stood outside of a park in Philadelphia campaigning for her daughter, and got every single signature she needed to be on the ballot for the Court of Common Pleas in one weekend. She sat as a Court of Common Pleas Judge for six years in Philadelphia, the largest judicial district in our commonwealth

“When anybody asks me, ‘How do you do what you do, where do you get the guts to do what you do?’ Well, I didn’t have to look any further than my own home to have somebody who taught me a wonderful work ethic, and that was my mom.”

McLaughlin has since been able to further her career, all thanks to her mom willing to petition for her daughter, knowing the sacrifices she has made and the passions she holds. She currently serves as liaison between the Pennsylvania Bar Association and the Superior Court.

When asked what some of the issues she would like to focus on if elected to the PA Supreme Court, McLaughlin said she would choose reform programs in order to better the lives of people who need help. She is a big proponent of treatment courts, specifically mental health treatment courts, drug treatment courts, and veterans treatment courts, as both her father and husband are veterans.

As she was a judge presiding over criminal cases, she said she realized that, “we don’t need to incarcerate these kinds of folks that need help, as they can benefit from treatment… Those issues can be addressed in another way, and so that’s something that I really would love to have more of a part in and the Supreme Court has the authority to do this.”

Another one of McLaughlin’s interests as a potential Supreme Court Judge is with a particular Autism Initiative. It’s happening at a Supreme Court level, and although she wants to get involved with the initiative because it is something that she has a personal connection to in her family, she also finds it especially important as someone who has that passion for helping other people.

McLaughlin’s advice for people? Hard work and determination will get you far. She prides herself on being able to work her way through school and life with nothing given to her. Her ability to do so has given her children the opportunity to pursue their passions in life, even being a chef and a photographer.

“I know that when I made that decision to resign from my job from the DA’s office, the only job I had for 19 years as a lawyer, I knew that was the reason I was able to have a son who’s a photographer and was a volunteer in Zambia, Africa in the Peace Corps. And I know that’s why my other son is a chef in Italy, because I had the guts to make that decision and lead by example, so that’s why it’s important to do what you want to do and not let others tell you what they think you should do!”

McLaughlin follows her father’s advice, always remembering her background and where she came from. With this, she is devoted to helping the people she represents in Pennsylvania, having even committed to traveling to all 67 counties of Pennsylvania just to know where the people she was meant to represent came from as well.

“I am a person who never thought I would be an elected official, let alone a statewide elected official of Pennsylvania, coming from the beginnings that I come from. So, I always have the inclination to do better, to help more people. I wear my black robe not for me, but for everybody, all of Pennsylvania. I may wear it alone as a judge, but I wear it for everybody.”