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Late addition complicates Westmoreland district judge race, Gongaware's re-election bid

Paul Peirce
| Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Wayne Gongaware
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Wayne Gongaware
Kash Snyder
Kash Snyder

Voters in North Huntingdon, Irwin and North Irwin may be surprised at the polls Nov. 7 to find that Acting District Judge Wayne Gongaware has an opponent, Kash Snyder, on the ballot for a six-year term.

Even Gongaware, who won both the Democratic and Republican nominations against two opponents in the May primary election, admits he was surprised when he learned this summer that Snyder, a former township commissioner in North Versailles, secured a position on the ballot in neighboring Westmoreland.

“I was surprised. I had never heard of him before,” Gongaware said.

Gongaware had just retired in 2016 after 27 years in the district attorney's office when he was appointed to fill the unexpired term of former District Judge Douglas R. Weimer Jr., who retired. Gongaware is seeking election to a full term in office, which pays $89,438 a year.

A lifelong township resident, Gongaware said he won't dwell on Snyder's unexpected candidacy.

“I think the voters will look at the qualifications and do the right thing,” he said.

Snyder, who ran for district judge in North Versailles in 2015, initially declined a Tribune-Review request for an interview, responding in an email that he was “far too busy preparing for the election.” He added that information about his candidacy could be found on his Facebook page and in an election advertisement in a weekly newspaper.

Although Snyder claims in campaign material that he has the required state certification to take office, if elected, Pennsylvania's minor judiciary education board said he is not certified.

When contacted by phone about the discrepancy, Snyder initially said the state was in error and asked for time to investigate.

Snyder said he was certified in 2015, when he lost the North Versailles district judge race to Roxanne Eichler. He was removed from the ballot after an Allegheny County judge ruled he had insufficient signatures on his nomination petition.

Snyder said he was recertified by the minor judiciary board in 2016. But after he contacted the board himself, he told the Tribune-Review he was in error.

“They said I would have to be recertified ... but it should not be a problem since I already went through it,” Snyder said.

He asked that any additional questions from the Tribune-Review be submitted via email.

Westmoreland Elections Director Beth Lechman explained how Snyder secured a place on ballot in North Huntingdon. He first registered to vote as a township resident on March 9 and circulated petition papers between March and June 13, she said. He obtained sufficient signatures from registered voters in the district to put himself on the ballot, she said.

“(Snyder) needed signatures of registered voters amounting to 2 percent of the number of people who voted in the last election for that seat (in 2012). He obtained 221 signatures, which was a sufficient number,” Lechman said.

Although most minor party candidates run as independent party members, Snyder is running under the “Snyder for Magistrate” party, Lechman said.

Snyder lists his profession as a state-certified notary public, which state records confirm, and lists his business address with the department of state on Naysmith Road in North Versailles.

Allegheny County records show that Snyder owns the business address, a ranch-style home, which is about 9 miles from the address he now lists as his permanent residence on Lime Street, a mobile home near Irwin.

In 2012, Snyder's younger brother, George Snyder Jr., ran for district judge in North Huntingdon but was removed from the primary ballot.

Retired Common Pleas Court Judge Gary Caruso ruled George Snyder merely “hoisted a flag of convenience” but did not live at a North Huntingdon storage garage he called home. Caruso noted in his ruling that the building had no plumbing and used an outside source of electricity.

Kash Snyder maintains he does reside in Westmoreland.

“I live in Westmoreland. ... I voted there in the last election,” his said.

In his campaign literature, Snyder notes he is a “Pittsburgh Law” graduate. Cori Parise of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law said Snyder did graduate from the school but not with a three-year juris doctor degree.

Snyder earned a 30-credit master in studies of law degree, which takes about one year to complete, she said.

According to the school's website, the MSL is not a formal law degree and is aimed at graduates and mid-career professionals “providing participants with foundational and specialized knowledge of laws and the legal system.”

Snyder did not reply to an email seeking comment on the degree.

In his election advertisement, Snyder said, “Our residents and our children deserve a magistrate with passion and sincerity to address the increasing and crippling drug problems and crime in Irwin, North Irwin and North Huntingdon.”

While Gongaware declined to further discuss Snyder's candidacy, he said his trial work prosecuting criminal cases with the district attorney's office for nearly three decades qualifies him to continue in the job. Gongaware noted he handled about 100 trials, including homicide and sexual assault cases, during his tenure.

“With the ongoing drug epidemic in the region, it is important to have someone with a criminal prosecuting background and legal experience in the position,” he said.

Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2860, ppeirce@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ppeirce_trib.

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