The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

March 22, 2013

Judicial candidates face early challenge

Paperwork could sink candidacies

MERCER COUNTY — In a move that is a first for a Mercer County judicial election, challenges have been filed against the petitions of three of five candidates running for Common Pleas Court judge.

A petition filed Wednesday by James T. Walsh, a lawyer representing Kara Liscio of Sharon and William M. Griffin of Wheatland, asks the state to review the authenticity of some signatures on nominating petitions submitted to get candidates on the primary ballots. The challengers are also questioning the legality of one candidate notarizing his own petitions.

The five candidates running for a 10-year-term are: Jim Ryan, Sharpsville; Victor S. Heutsche, Sharon; Joann M. Jofery, Wheatland; Daniel P. Wallace, West Salem Township; and Ryan Mergl, of Sharon.

Challenges have been filed against the petitions submitted by Ryan, Jofrey and Wallace, according to the state’s Unified Judicial System website.

Judicial candidates typically file on both Republican and Democratic ballots since the office is nominally non-partisan and all of the candidates submitted petitions to cross file. To do that they needed to gather at least 250 signatures from registered voters of each party.

Walsh, of Pittsburgh, said his clients, whom he referred to as private citizens and not political operatives, want to be sure that candidates for judge meet the “minimum threshold” for election requirements.

“I don’t ever remember a judge losing a retention vote, so essentially this is a lifetime position. We want to see that the person who takes this job can at least meet those very basic requirements of getting valid signatures,” Walsh said.

Commonwealth Court will review the cases in the first week of April, Walsh said, and he is asking that signatures that are not valid be thrown out. In some cases, he said, that may result in candidates not having the required number of signatures and not eligible to be on the ballot in the May 21 primary election.

Walsh said he and his clients reviewed the signatures on the petitions, which he called an “arduous process” and question the legality of “hundreds of signatures.” He is not seeking to have the entire petitions dismissed, only those signatures in question.

“We’re seeing things like Democrats signing Republican petitions, Republicans signing Democratic petitions, a husband signing for both himself and his wife, with the same exact handwriting, people with incomplete addresses, things like that,” he said.

He also said Wallace, who is a notary public, notarized his own petitions, which is not permitted under state election law.

Wallace admitted he notarized petitions that were circulated by others for him, but not the ones he personally circulated.

“I did do that. And I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to. I didn’t see anywhere that I couldn’t. But I also know that ignorance of the law is no excuse,” he said.

“But it is very unfortunate that the judicial campaign has come to this. It’s usually about campaigning on your qualifications, not your petitions,” Wallace said.

He said he has more than twice the required number of signatures and even if some are thrown out, he will be within the requirements on the Republican petition but not the Democratic. He also said he hasn’t made up his mind yet about what to do about court challenge.

“I guess it’s just a matter of working through it, but if mine and others get thrown out, the voters will all be disenfranchised in the primary election,” Wallace said.

Walsh said he was “surprised” by the reaction Wallace allegedly had to the person serving him the court papers. “I was told he was rude and indignant. I would think someone running for a job as a judge wouldn’t be thrown by a lawsuit.”

Wallace said he was upset, but not because his petition was challenged, but rather because he isn’t sure who is behind the challenge. He said one of the petitioners, Griffin, accompanied the person serving the papers.

“And I looked him in the eye and asked him ‘Why did you do this?’ and he said ‘I was bored’ and that upset me,” Wallace said.

Wallace and Jofrey both said they suspect another candidate may be behind the challenge, but had no proof. Jofrey said she has retained counsel and didn’t want to comment on the challenge, beyond saying that she was “disappointed” because it isn’t the way judicial races are normally conducted.

Griffin, who circulated petitions for Mergl, has an address in Wheatland, but no contact information was available Thursday.

Mergl confirmed that Griffin circulated petitions for him and said the two have been “friends since childhood,” but denied that he had any knowledge of Griffin’s bid to challenge his competitors’ petitions. He said he is not behind the challenge and said he did not know Liscio, the other petitioner.

Jeff Greenburg, the county’s director of elections, said he is hoping the courts deal with challenges in a timely manner, as the county is in the process of preparing primary election ballots. “Hopefully they will realize the time constraints involved with this. It’s a first for Mercer County,” he said.

The court will consider Jofrey’s petition on April 2, Wallace’s petition on April 4 and Ryan’s on April 11.

Text Only
Local News
  • Community thanks its first-responders

    Sharpsville honored its emergency responders Sunday at an event that included Mertz Towers residents as special guests.

    July 28, 2014

  • Drilling boom challenges state inspectors

    The state’s 83 well inspectors face a daunting enough challenge keeping tabs on 120,000 active oil and gas wells that have been drilled over the last century.

    July 28, 2014

  • Kidds Mill Covered Bridge A span of time

    Four generations of the Cadman family have enjoyed the Kidds Mill Covered Bridge, which is in Pymatuning Township near where the family’s ancestral farm is located.

    July 28, 2014 3 Photos

  • Intruder hurts woman, takes $5

    A home invasion in Hermitage Friday night sent an elderly woman to the hospital and netted the robber $5.

    July 27, 2014

  • national night out March against crime set for Aug. 5

    At the last Southwest Mercer County Regional Police Commission meeting, Chief Riley Smoot Jr. presented the number of incidents for each of the four communities in May.

    Farrell topped out at 819.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • high street trail Peaceful pathways

    History buffs and picnickers in the Shenango Valley won’t have to drive to Sharpsville to hang out at the old Erie Canal extension lock. They’ll soon have the option to walk or roll in on bicycles and even powered chairs to visit Canal Park near the outflow of Shenango Dam.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • balloonquest1 Balloon Quest celebrates 25 years

    Today is the final day of the 25th annual Western Pennsylvania Balloon Quest at Scotland Meadows Park.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • News briefs from July 26, 2014

    Man faces bomb threat charges

    June building tops $4 million in Hermitage

    July 26, 2014

  • Elderly man survives plane crash

    An elderly man survived wrecking his plane into a bank, then landing into a wetland, about 200 feet south of Runway 28 at Grove City Regional Airport in Springfield Township on Friday.

    July 26, 2014

  • Dontae Rashad Pinkins Man arrested for April gunfight

    Federal marshals and local police arrested Dontae Rashad Pinkins Thursday on a warrant accusing him of involvement in an April gunfight with another man in a Sharon alley.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Hearing changed in starving case

    The time and place for the preliminary hearing of a Greenville mom accused of starving and beating her 7-year-old young son has been changed.

    July 26, 2014

  • Schell working on mural Drawn to Mexico

    Jason Schell probably is not exaggerating when he says that millions of people have seen his art.

    July 26, 2014 4 Photos

  • Farrell man, 24, arrested on warrant in connection with April shooting

    Federal marshals and local police arrested Dontae Rashad Pinkins Thursday on a warrant accusing him of involvement in an April shootout in Sharon.

    Pinkins, 24, of Farrell, is in Mercer County Jail after failing to post bond on gun charges.

    Additional details to follow.

    July 25, 2014

  • Firm will study timing of traffic signals

    Hermitage commissioners on Wednesday hired Whitman, Requardt and Associates LLP to study the timing scheme of traffic signals along parts of Hermitage Road and East State Street.

    July 25, 2014

  • 3 area fire depts. awarded grants

    Three area fire departments will share in more than $590,000 in grants meant to help Pennsylvania’s rural communities guard against the threat of fires in forests and other undeveloped areas, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Ellen Ferretti announced.

    July 25, 2014