Judge invalidates ballot petition for Elizabeth-area magistrate candidate
By Patrick Cloonan
Published: Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 5:11 a.m.
Magisterial District Judge Beth Scagline-Mills will have competition in the May 21 Republican primary, but not in the Democratic primary.
At a hearing in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Joseph M. James invalidated Kenneth Ray Lawson's Democratic petitions in District 5-2-16.
James rejected an argument by attorney Matthew D. Racunas about mailing addresses listed on Lawson's Republican petitions.
District 5-2-16 covers Elizabeth, Elizabeth Township, Forward and West Elizabeth. Scagline-Mills and Lawson live in Forward.
Some Elizabeth Township signers listed a McKeesport 15135 address, using an Elizabeth Township ZIP code. Others listed Buena Vista, a part of Elizabeth Township.
“Those are not invalid,” James said about two signers. “I will not strike them.”
“Based on that ruling, we are going to withdraw our objection,” Racunas said.
County elections director Mark Wolosik said Commonwealth Court ruled and state Supreme Court affirmed in 2006 that what a voter puts down on a petition is valid if it matches what is on his registration card.
There was at least one case in which a woman registered by her maiden name signed with her married name. James invalidated that signature.
Racunas challenged Lawson on behalf of Scagline-Mills, a registered Democrat.
“I think my attorney did a great job,” Scagline-Mills said.
He also represented Elizabeth's Republican council vice president Robin Miller.
Lawson did not attend Tuesday's hearing.
“We served him personally by constable,” Racunas told James. “Additionally, I tried to call him.”
Racunas said the only telephone number he could find for Lawson had been disconnected.
To cross-file against Scagline-Mills, Lawson submitted two petitions with 127 signatures apiece; 100 signatures were needed to qualify for each party's ballot.
On the Democratic side, technicalities and other problems reduced the number of valid signatures to 99.
Before Tuesday's hearing, Racunas, his associate Kristin Mackulin and attorneys for the county Elections Division agreed that 15 signatures could be removed from the Democratic petitions.
In at least three cases before James, it appeared that the same signer filled in two slots on the petition.
“The signatures look different but printing looks the same,” the judge remarked.
The attorneys did not work on the GOP petitions, but the judge found problems there, too.
“I can't read the signature and I can barely read the printed name,” James said about one signer. “I don't care to guess.”
Racunas offered a Hatch Act argument against Lawson, who has been working as a police officer for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Pittsburgh.
“Individuals employed by a federal agency are specifically prohibited from being a candidate for an elective office,” according to the paperwork Racunas filed on behalf of Miller.
James conceded that Lawson could be liable for “criminal sanctions” and that “he could be removed from his job.”
The judge reserved a ruling on the objection, citing a state Supreme Court precedent.
“You can run for the office,” James said. “You just can't be seated.”
Lawson can appeal his removal from the Democratic ballot to Commonwealth Court.
Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1967, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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