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Clairton ballot appeal headed to higher court

| Thursday, April 25, 2013, 3:41 a.m.

A court fight over Clairton's mayoral race isn't over yet.

On Wednesday, Mayor Richard Lattanzi's attorney Glenn Smith filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court Western District in Pittsburgh in a final bid to erase Councilman Richard Ford III's name from the May 21 Democratic primary ballot for Lattanzi's job.

“I'm looking for someone to say, ‘We need justice here, this isn't right,'” Lattanzi said. He again insisted that Ford “was trying to hide his debt from the taxpayers.”

Smith contended before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Joseph M. James and Commonwealth Court that Ford owes money to the city of Clairton, Clairton City School District, Clairton Reinvestment Corp. and the Internal Revenue Service.

The debts are in excess of $6,500, Smith said in papers filed with courts in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. The IRS lien alone is for $7,423.50.

James told Ford to amend his statement of financial interest. He did so, listing all those creditors but listing the federal tax lien and the obligation to CRC as “under protest,” adding that the statute of limitations had expired on the CRC claim.

Smith argued before James and later wrote in his filing to Commonwealth Court that no such protest existed. James ruled in Ford's favor and Commonwealth Court Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer affirmed that ruling.

Ford's attorney, Burrell A. Brown, said he would file a reply only if the high court agrees to review it.

“I see nothing of constitutional significance with regard to this case that would encourage the court to take another look at this matter,” Brown said. “I would be surprised if the Supreme Court agrees to even entertain the appeal filed. It seems to me that Mr. Lattanzi would rather fight Mr. Ford in the courts as opposed to the ballot box.”

Lattanzi said his decision was not affected by the Monday Clairton Democratic Committee vote endorsing Ford for mayor over Lattanzi, the city committee chairman, as well as Councilman Terry Lee Julian and former council candidate Kenneth Barna.

“I don't know how the people on my committee could endorse something like that,” Lattanzi said, referring to Ford's reputed obligations.

“Given that Mr. Lattanzi was unable as chairman of the Democratic committee to get the endorsement of his own city committee, I can understand his fear of facing Mr. Ford at the ballot box,” Brown said.

The committee also disregarded Lattanzi by endorsing Julian for another council term in Ward 3 and Ford for re-election to council in Ward 2.

Lattanzi's focus was on Ford, but Julian's candidacy for mayor and council had been challenged for similar reasons by legal secretary Lee Lasich, who is running against Julian in the Ward 3 primary.

Lasich claimed Julian owes $34,000 in back taxes to the city and school district. James ruled in Julian's favor because Lasich did not file her challenge in a timely manner.

Julian said he may take legal action, because documents attached to Lasich's petition gave incorrect information about what he still owes from a venture that went out of business in 1996. He also questioned how Lasich obtained those documents.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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