Melissa Francis is making her first run for office, and while it remains to be seen what kind of politician she is, she believes she’s suited for the bench.
“I think I’ll be an excellent judge,” she said.
Francis is a Democratic candidate for both Common Pleas and Municipal Court.
“You can vote for me twice,” she said.
Francis, 52, is a graduate of Archbishop Ryan High School for Girls (class of 1988), has psychology and philosophy degrees from the University of Scranton (class of 1992) and is a graduate of Villanova School of Law. She lives in the Far Northeast.
Her first professional job was as a law clerk for Delaware County Common Pleas Court Judge George Koudelis. She learned the rules of evidence, to show up on time and work a full day. She described the late Koudelis as non-political and as someone who treated people well. She worked two years for the judge, who handled criminal and civil cases.
“I got a taste of both,” she said.
A lifelong Philadelphian, Francis began working as a Philadelphia assistant district attorney in 1998. Over the years, she handled felony preliminary hearings, worked in juvenile court, was assigned to the repeat offenders and major trials units, served as assistant chief in the Northeast Division and was chief of the Dangerous Drug Offenders Unit.
Francis served under DAs Lynne Abraham, Seth Williams and Kelley Hodge at a time when she said the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office was considered one of the premier places to work in the United States.
Her employment came to an abrupt end on Jan. 5, 2018, when new DA Larry Krasner fired her and 30 other prosecutors in his first week in office. No specific reason was given.
Three weeks later, she joined the state attorney general’s office as assistant chief of the drug strike force. She remained until February, when she resigned to run for judge.
Francis boasts of working in courtrooms five days a week for 25 years, adding that she knows the neighborhoods and the players in the court system and has met with crime victims across Philadelphia.
“That’s absolutely my strength,” she said. “That’s a lot of experience in court.”
Her ballot numbers are 22 in the Common Pleas race and 27 in the Municipal Court race, but her position is not great. She’s 15th of 16 in the Common Pleas race (10 get nominated) and last among four in the Municipal Court race (two get nominated).
Francis is running a grassroots campaign. She has a campaign Facebook page and has enjoyed talking to people in churches and at community group meetings.
“I’m trying to get out and meet as many Philadelphians as I can,” she said.
Francis is recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association and has been endorsed by Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, the Guardian Civic League and IUPAT District Council 21. She’s also received support from defense attorneys.
“People know my reputation,” she said.
If elected, Francis vows to take the bench on time and work a full day.
“We’ve got a massive backlog,” she said.
On the bench, she plans to be fair and display the proper temperament, traits she said she’s learned from Koudelis and retired Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judges Ben Lerner and Sandy Byrd. She’s willing to give someone a second chance, to make them get a job instead of going to jail, as long as they are a young first-time, non-violent offender and not a career criminal.
“I was a tough prosecutor, but I’m extremely fair,” she said. ••