By Sandy Scarmack
Herald Staff Writer
MERCER COUNTY —
Challenges to Democrat Joann Jofery’s nominating petitions for Mercer County Common Pleas Court judge were dismissed as “moot” on Thursday, allowing her name to be placed on both ballots in the May primary.
Jofery, an attorney with a practice in Sharon, said the challenge to her Republican nomination was withdrawn by James T. Walsh, a Pittsburgh attorney who filed the initial challenge last week.
A copy of the court docket lists the challenge as “moot” and provides no further explanation.
Jofery on Monday said she did not know why the initial charge was filed nor why it was dropped.
“I take this to be an acknowledgment that the challenge was baseless and should never have been filed,” she said.
Walsh said after he met with Jofery’s attorney, Karen Balaban, it “became clear that some of the signatures could be rehabilitated.”
“Sometimes voter registrations are not always up to date. Sometimes, we get updated information that then makes those signatures valid and since she had more than the 250 signatures needed and we knew there was no point in pursuing it further. There was no need to waste the court’s time or my clients’ money,” Walsh said.
Walsh is representing Sharon resident Kara Liscio and Wheatland resident William Griffin, who said petitions filed by Jofery and two other judicial candidates included invalid signatures, were circulated improperly or flawed in other ways.
Candidates need the signatures of 250 registered voters from each party to get on both ballots. Judicial candidates routinely cross-file on both Republican and Democratic ballots in the partisan primary.
The challenges against petitions filed by Daniel P. Wallace of West Salem Township and Jim Ryan of Sharpsville are scheduled to be heard in the next week by Commonwealth Court in Pittsburgh.
The Herald has been unable to contact Liscio or Griffin for comment. Griffin circulated petitions for candidate Ryan Mergl of Sharon, who said he had nothing to do with the challenges but acknowledged that Griffin is a longtime friend.
Walsh said that while Jofery’s challenge was dismissed, he plans to challenge additional signatures today on Wallace’s petition. He said he became aware of another page of signatures that he did not know about when he filed the first challenge.
Wallace acknowledged previously that he erred in notarizing some of his petitions himself.
Walsh said he has not been able to speak with anyone regarding the challenges to Ryan’s petition and said a constable reported having difficulty serving the papers to Ryan.
“We were finally told to leave it on his desk in his office. And I have yet to sit down with anyone representing him,” Walsh said.
Walsh filed the challenges to the petitions looking for discrepancies in the requirements of having 250 valid signatures each on a Democratic and Republican petition. He said earlier he believed some of the signatures were invalid and, if Commonwealth Court agrees with that assessment, and throws out some of the signatures, it could mean that Wallace or Ryan won’t be on one or both May primary ballots.
Five candidates filed for the race, with Victor Heutsche of Sharon rounding out the field.
The challenges are a first for a Mercer County judicial race, county Elections Director Jeff Greenburg said previously.
Judges are elected to 10-year terms but must retire the year they turn age 70. The candidates are running to fill a vacancy created by that rule, which forced the retirement of Judge John Reed.