Judge Profile

Stephen G. Baratta

Judicial Experience:

  • Judge, Northampton County Court of Common Pleas, Elected (1997)

Other Professional Experience:

  • 1st Assistant District Attorney, Northampton County, 1992 to 1997
  • Assistant County Solicitor, Northampton County Department of Human Services, 1990 to 1992
  • Private Practice, 1982 to 1992
  • Solicitor, Northampton County Children & Youth Division, 1985 to 1990
  • Elected Judge, Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County, 1997-present

Education:

  • JD, Fordham University School of Law, 1981
  • BA, Lafayette College, 1978

Professional Civic Activities/Honors/Awards:

  • Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges
  • American Judicature Society

Rules/Procedures:

  • Describe motions practice in your court. Are there any local practices that attorneys should be aware of? Judge Baratta holds oral argument in the courtroom, but off the record. He is an active participant in the argument and attempts to cut right to the issues. (PA Law Weekly)

  • Are there any special practices or procedures lawyers appearing before you should know about? On Preparation: "When preparing for trial, you have lawyers sometimes who sit down and start writing out all the questions they want to ask the witness, and [at trial] they have the paper and begin reading off the questions. That doesn't help. What I think you have to do is sit down and say 'OK, our theory of defense, or our theory of liability, is X, and what are the facts that are going to convince the jury.' Decide what they are and then say, 'How do I get those facts into evidence, and what are the possible objections to this evidence, and how do I address that.' You don't see that enough." On Briefs and Oral Arguments: Baratta's biggest complaint with legal briefs coming before him is a failure to develop the facts. When a brief is short on facts, a judge has to dig for them, he said. "I'm willing to do that and I'm sure more judges are. But it can be very frustrating to get a brief that has a lot of legal argument but the facts that support the argument aren't there. Then you have to open up the depositions, you have to open up the complaint and start finding the facts yourself. If you require a judge to do that kind of investigative work, you might be in trouble." Judge Baratta advises attorneys not to repeat their briefs during argument. "What I want you to do is tell me 'Judge, this is what we need and this is why you should do it.' I start trying to get to the issues right away, and oftentimes I might identify a couple of issues I think are important and I ask those questions right away."

  • Any suggestions, admonitions or recommendations you would make to lawyers appearing before you? On the role of the attorney: In the courthouse, an attorney has to be a people-person, according to Baratta. "I really like the practice of law; I really like the impact you can have as a lawyer and judge, not only on the community, but on individuals. If you don't like people, if you can't interact with people, you shouldn't be in the courthouse; you should be doing transactional work or something else."