Patrick F. Dugan

Judge Patrick F. Dugan has served on the Philadelphia Municipal Court for over a decade, presiding over criminal misdemeanor cases and civil lawsuits involving the city. However, in 2023 Dugan set his sights higher by running for a seat on the prestigious Pennsylvania Superior Court. Unfortunately for Dugan, his superior court bid ended in defeat during the Democratic primary. While Dugan’s tenure on the municipal court has been largely successful, his lack of experience handling serious felony cases likely contributed to his failed superior court run.

Dugan’s Tenure on Philadelphia Municipal Court

Dugan was first elected to Philadelphia’s Municipal Court in 2007. He went on to win re-election bids in 2017 and 2021. His current term ends in January 2028. During his lengthy municipal court tenure, Dugan has overseen thousands of misdemeanor criminal cases and civil suits filed against the City of Philadelphia.

One of Dugan’s most notable rulings came in 2018 when he rejected the city’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy, finding it unconstitutional. The landmark decision was seen as a major victory for criminal justice reform advocates. Dugan has generally shown a willingness to take on complex and politically charged cases during his time on the municipal court bench.

Dugan’s Run for PA Superior Court

In 2023, Dugan decided to run for an open seat on the Pennsylvania Superior Court in the May primary. The Superior Court is the primary appellate court for criminal and civil cases in PA. However, Dugan lost the three-way Democratic primary for the superior court nomination on May 16.

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Dugan’s lack of extensive felony trial experience likely hurt his bid. Superior Court judges hear appeals on serious criminal cases and complex civil litigation – areas outside Dugan’s traditional municipal court purview which handles lower level crimes and city government cases. His rivals in the primary had more pertinent backgrounds.

Superior Court Background

The PA Superior Court is divided into three geographic districts each with seven judges. The court hears criminal conviction appeals involving felonies and major civil litigation appeals. Superior court judicial candidates often have extensive criminal law and trial experience, along with strong appellate records.

Some of the longest serving current Superior Court judges include Susan Peikes Gantman, Carolyn H. Nichols, and Mary Jane Bowes – each elected in the early 2000s. The court handles thousands of appeals every year and sets important judicial precedents.

Key Differences Between Courts

There are major distinctions between the Philadelphia Municipal Court where Dugan has served and the statewide Superior Court. As a municipal court judge, Dugan’s caseload consisted of misdemeanor crimes and civil lawsuits specific to Philadelphia. Superior Court has a much broader jurisdiction covering appeals of major criminal convictions and civil verdicts from lower courts across the entire state.

Superior Court judges must be comfortable handling felony-level cases whereas municipal court judges deal with lower level criminal offenses with less severe penalties. The scope of civil litigation also differs greatly between the two courts. Overall, Superior Court has a more challenging caseload and wider jurisdictional authority.

Analysis of Dugan’s Chances

Dugan’s lengthy tenure as a municipal court judge gave him solid judicial experience to run on. However, critics noted his lack of involvement presiding over serious criminal trials or complex civil litigation – the Superior Court’s bread and butter. Dugan’s experience was mainly at the misdemeanor and municipal level.

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While Dugan had a strong record of leadership on the Philadelphia court, groups like the PA Bar Association gave him a “Not Recommended” rating due to his lack of relevant background for the Superior Court position. Ultimately, Democratic primary voters opted for candidates with more direct felony litigation expertise.

Paths Forward After Defeat

While he came up short in his bid for Superior Court, Dugan still has four more years left on his Philadelphia Municipal Court term. He could potentially leverage his strong municipal court record to run for a higher statewide court again the future. Dugan may also be an attractive candidate should a federal judicial nomination open up.

Dugan’s administrative capabilities could make him a viable candidate for an appointed position heading up a major state agency. He also has the option to serve out his municipal court term and retire with an impressive judicial legacy intact.


Despite his superior court primary defeat, Judge Patrick Dugan maintains a distinguished record as a long-tenured Philadelphia Municipal Court jurist. However, Dugan’s lower court background failed to sufficiently prepare him for the rigors of Pennsylvania’s second highest court. While Dugan still has options moving forward, his lack of major criminal and civil litigation experience ultimately hindered his candidacy for Superior Court. Dugan’s strong municipal court service is still admirable, even if the Superior Court proved to be beyond his reach in 2023.


Q: What court does Patrick Dugan currently serve on?

A: Dugan is a judge on the Philadelphia Municipal Court in Pennsylvania.

Q: When did Dugan lose in the primary for the Superior Court?

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A: Dugan lost in the Democratic primary election on May 16, 2023.

Q: What types of cases do the Philadelphia Municipal Court and PA Superior Court handle?

A: The Municipal Court handles misdemeanor crimes and civil cases specific to Philadelphia, while the Superior Court deals with serious criminal conviction appeals and complex statewide civil litigation appeals.

Q: What experience was Dugan lacking in his Superior Court run?

A: Critics said Dugan did not have enough experience with major criminal felony trials and complex civil lawsuits to serve capably on the Superior Court.

Q: Could Dugan run for higher office again in the future?

A: Yes, after completing his current Philadelphia Municipal Court term, Dugan could potentially mount another statewide judicial run given his strong municipal court record.

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