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Full Field of Candidates Vying for District Court 18-3-03 Seat

Monday, May 13, 2019 @ 12:05 AM

Posted by Aly Delp

gavelKNOX, Pa. (EYT) – Residents in the western part of Clarion County have a full field of candidates to choose from on the primary election ballot for Magisterial District Judge in District Court 18-3-03.

The judicial district spans Ashland, Beaver, Elk, Richland. and Salem Townships and Knox, Shippenville, St. Petersburg, and Foxburg Boroughs.

Damien Avery (Republican) of Elk Township


Avery is an Elk Township resident and a 2009 graduate of Keystone High School.  He received his associate’s degree in Criminal Justice from Clarion University. He also attended Mercyhurst Police Academy in North East, Pa., where he graduated from the ACT 120 program.

He has been serving the people of Clarion County as an active Clarion County Sheriff’s Deputy for the last four years. He is also a member of the Knox Lions Club

“I believe as magistrate I can offer a fair and impartial determination of the law for the district and its citizens,” said Avery.

Russell J. Cataldo II (Democratic/Republican) of Knox


Cataldo is a Knox resident and a Keystone graduate.  He served in the U.S. Marines as an aviation technician. He is a Gulf War veteran and graduated in the top of his platoon and as number one in aviation school. While in the Marines he earned two Meritorious Masts, Navy achievement medal, Good Conduct with gold star along with other service awards.

After his honorable discharge, Cataldo and his family moved back to Knox, and he dove back into his long-time tradition in serving. He joined the Knox Volunteer Fire Company holding many positions with his latest as chief since 2012.

“Serving as chief has been a great accomplishment and overseeing these dedicated men and women is not only an honor, but also a much greater responsibility than one can imagine. These men and women’s lives depend on the snap decisions made on the scene while saving life and property,” Cataldo said.

He has also been a member of the Knox United Methodist Church serving on many committees with his most notable as Head of Trustees with a chair on the board. He is currently a member of Cornerstone Church of Clarion.

Following his time in the Marine Corps, Cataldo excelled at Cleveland Institute of Electronic studying Electronic Engineering and has been employed at Matric Ltd in Seneca for 22 years with 18 years as a supervisor. While at Matric he was a member of the safety committee and has held the title plant fire coordinator for many years. Along with electronics, Russ is a Clarion University Alumni with a concentration in English. He has also served in the community with many local sport teams coaching from Tee ball right up to Sr league, YMCA youth basketball and KHS flag football. He has also been apart of the Knox Horsethief community for over 20 years.

“I believe this position requires someone that has experienced life lessons and is unbiased to the law,” Cataldo said. “No one knows more than me the dedication and time this job will take. Being a Fire chief absorbs more than a few hundred hours a year of training, maintenance, public service, paperwork, meetings and of course saving lives. Its more than just coaching a team or sitting on a community organization. I’ve missed many meals to serve. Numerous sleepless nights only to hear the alarm go off for work.”

Melissa Fulton (Democratic/Republican) of Ashland Township


Fulton is an Ashland Township resident and a 2000 graduate of Clarion University. She has a B.S. in Rehabilitation Science with concentration on Developmental Disabilities and has been employed for the past 20 years in the field of health and human services, working with juvenile offenders, families in crisis, volunteer mentors, health care patients, and community development.

Since 2012, Fulton has filled the role of Executive Director of United Way of Clarion County.  Her accomplishments include establishing the Community Cancer Fund, organizing the local Healthy Kids Running Series, creating and coordinating Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program for local children, and launching PA 2-1-1 services across Clarion County.  She is also the driving force behind United Way’s annual campaign and special event fundraisers which provide financial support for over 25 local programs.  She is also a Board Member of United Way of Pennsylvania, serving as co-chair for the Nomination committee.

She is an active parishioner in Knox United Methodist Church, member of the Clarion Rotary Club, Shelter Task Force, serves on National Fuel’s Neighbor for Neighbor committee, Vice President of Knox Civic Club and Vice President of The Sawmill Center for the Arts.  She volunteers with Clarion County Sportsmen for Youth and is a member of the Knox Horsethief Committee.

Fulton recently attended required Certification Training for prospective Magisterial District Judges in Harrisburg.  The four-week course provided a thorough knowledge base covering standards of ethics, criminal and civil law and a comprehensive analysis of the fundamentals of judicial process.

As for her decision to run for Magisterial District Judge, Fulton stated: “The past 20 years, I’ve dedicated myself to improving my community, making sure people felt safe and were treated fairly. This opportunity seems like a natural next step.  I’m an advocate, I fight for what is right even if it isn’t the easiest choice.  I’m accountable and hold others to the same high standards that our community needs. I pride myself knowing I approach difficult situations with patience, compassion and above all, integrity, all qualities that an MDJ should possess and the voters deserve.”

Jarah Heeter (Democratic/Republican) of Shippenville


Heeter, who currently resides in Shippenville, grew up in Knox and attended Keystone High School. She went on to Clarion University where she studied Communications and Political Science before continuing on to Duquesne University School of Law.

As a licensed Pennsylvania attorney, Heeter is qualified for the position without the necessity of additional classes or certifications, according to a release issued by her campaign.

After finishing her law degree, Heeter returned to Clarion County and began her career as law clerk to Clarion County President Judge, James G. Arner. Her responsibilities included attending court proceedings and assisting the county judge as well as the county’s magisterial district judges when needed. Heeter then worked as an Assistant District Attorney in Clarion County, handling the prosecution of criminal cases through trial.

Currently, Heeter is a partner in the law firm of Pope, Drayer, French & Heeter, PC in Clarion which includes attorneys H. John Drayer (of counsel), Stephen French, Ryan French, and Daniel Ferringer. Heeter has practiced with this firm for over eleven years.

Heeter stated, “I was raised in this community, so were my parents and even grandparents. This is where my roots are and where I have chosen to live. It would be a privilege to serve the citizens of this district as magisterial district judge. This position comes with great responsibility. The experience I have gained from actively participating in this county’s legal system makes me uniquely qualified to transition seamlessly and confidently into this role upon Judge Long Turk’s retirement.”

Heeter frequently serves the function of decision-maker in judicial proceedings as Domestic Relations Hearing Officer, Mental Health Review Officer, on arbitration panels and as a divorce master.

“All of these roles require conducting hearings, receiving and evaluating witness testimony and evidence and making decisions based on applicable law,” said Heeter.

Heeter has practiced before all of the Clarion County magisterial district judges as well as magisterial district judges in Armstrong, Venango, Jefferson, Forest and Butler counties.

She stated, “My background includes both criminal prosecution and defense, so I understand the challenges faced by police and prosecutors as well as the importance of respecting the liberties of private citizens. These are issues magisterial district judges continually face regarding search warrants, preliminary hearings and summary trials.”

Heeter also has experience in other matters presided over by magisterial district judges such as civil litigation and landlord/tenant law.

Heeter serves on the board of directors of the Mrs. Claus Club of Knox and as Vice President of the board of Stop Abuse for Everyone (SAFE). She is a member of the Clarion University Paralegal Advisory Board and Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Shippenville.

Michelle Magness (Republican) of Elk Township

Michelle Magness

Magness graduated from Keystone High School and went on to earn degrees in Psychology and Criminal Justice from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. During her time at Edinboro, she also took summer classes at Clarion University. She has worked as a Counselor at Clarion County Correction for the past 17 years.

Magness is a registered Girl Scout volunteer and a member of the American Legion Auxiliary and Grace Lutheran Church. She is also a board member and past President of Passages, Inc. and is very proud of the work they do for abuse victims, both children and adults and their families. She also regularly attends music events, volleyball and cross country with her twin daughters, who attend Keystone High School.

Magness states, “Working as the Counselor at Clarion County Corrections for the past 17 years has given me the opportunity to work with all levels of the court system. I have worked closely with many psychiatrists, doctors, and their staffs over the years. Also dealing with the personal heartache families must endure – I have dealt with everything from murder to petty theft. I believe I can take the knowledge and ability to work with all persons into the position. The ability to listen to individuals and learn many things about them that you may not necessarily know just by looking at them.”

“I believe I possess the strengths of being a good judge of character and a listener, as well as understand the importance of upholding the laws of the Commonwealth. I have no political or personal ties that would hinder me in any way from rendering fair and impartial decisions. I have learned both through my education and through my employment that I would be able to do an excellent job as Judge in District 18-3-03. I believe I have learned that there is more than one side to any situation, and you need to hear all the facts before you come to any conclusion.”

“I feel we are truly lucky to have one of the best schools in Clarion County for working and caring so much about their students. I want to make sure Knox and all surrounding areas are a safe place to raise your family and keep it as safe as possible.”

Rodney L. Sherman (Republican) of Salem Township

Rodney Sherman

Sherman is a Salem Township resident, and a graduate of Keystone High School and Clarion University, who has lived in the district nearly all his life, excepting only the five years he spent serving in the U.S. Army. He served in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Minnesota and South Korea while in the army.

He has served on the Knox Public Library Board of Trustees and is president of Clarion Community Theater and a member of the Dehart Rossman Wenner American Legion Post in Lamartine.

Sherman has worked in the public sector for 31 years following his military service and currently works as the editor of the Clarion News.

“Over the course of my 25 years with the Clarion News, I have covered district court proceedings handled by nine different district judges,” said Sherman. “I learned something about the law and court system from each of those judges. I’m confident I can combine all of the knowledge I’ve gathered from those nine district judges and serve as a competent, fair and trustworthy district judge.”

Garrett Tharan (Democratic/Republican) of Knox

Garrett Tharan

An Ashland Township resident, Tharan graduated from Keystone Junior-Senior High School in 1998. Upon graduation, he began working full-time for Tharan Contracting until he took over in 2006 as both partner and general manager for three oil and gas exploration and production companies. Currently, he is president of Five Star Resources, Millennium Oil and Gas, and is Treasurer of Missing Moon Oil, Inc.

He is a member of the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of Knox, he currently sits on the Board of Directors for The Sons of the American Legion Post 720, and is co-chair of the Sons of the American Legion golf scramble benefit. He is also is a member of the PA Independent Petroleum Producers (P.I.P.P.), PA Grade Crude Oil Coalition (P.G.C.C.). Previously, he served on the Foxburg Country Club Board of Governors as Treasurer.

Tharan states, “I believe being a part of this area my entire life, and talking with numerous people, I have a respectable understanding of what the citizens of this area expect. They want a safe place to live and raise their family, as well as, wanting the people that violate the laws to be held accountable for their actions. If elected, I promise to the people of these communities I will take a tough stance against all violations brought before me and rule in a fair and just manner.”

Additionally, Tharan strongly states, “Above all, I would come to this position as an unbiased, fair-minded person, with no prior allegiances to law enforcement, the legal system or personal/political views.”

“I am financing my own campaign; therefore, I will owe no political favors.”

Copyright © 2019 EYT Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Any copying, redistribution or retransmission of the contents of this service without the express written consent of EYT Media Group, Inc. is expressly prohibited.


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