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Fayette County district courts combined

| Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 12:36 a.m.

If Magisterial District Judge Jesse Cramer is re-elected, he will have a new office and an increased workload.

The state Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the elimination of the magisterial district currently covered by retiring Judge Dwight K. Shaner and to merge it with Cramer's district, effective Jan. 1, 2014.

Cramer, who is running unopposed thus far on both the Democratic and Republican ballots in his existing district, would inherit Dawson, Dunbar, Everson, Perryopolis and Vanderbilt boroughs and Dunbar, Franklin, Lower Tyrone, Perry and Upper Tyrone townships.

He now serves Belle Vernon, Fayette City and Newell boroughs and Washington and Jefferson townships.

Shaner turns 70 this year and, under state law, must retire. He will finish out the year under the old district's configuration. After his final day on Dec. 31, Shaner's area will be dissolved.

It is unclear is whether candidates seeking Shaner's post will be permitted to run against Cramer in the newly formed district.

The primary election is May 21, and candidates who want to be on the ballot must file by 4:30 p.m. March 12. The general election is Nov. 5.

So far, at least three people are out to replace Shaner: Soni Shaner Mancuso, Richard A. Kasunic II and Ken Jaynes.

Mancuso is Shaner's daughter, Kasunic is the son of state Sen. Richard Kasunic, and Jaynes is a detective lieutenant on the Connellsville Police Department.

All three live in Dunbar Township and have announced that they are candidates.

Cramer said he does not think the other candidates can oppose him.

He referred to the final line of the Supreme Court's order, which states: “The vacancy for district 14-3-06 (Shaner's district) shall not appear on the ballot in the 2013 municipal election.”

“Far be it for me to question the Supreme Court, but you would think they'd have this settled before these people spent money and went out to get petitions to sign and organize committees,” Cramer said.

“I feel badly for them. That being said, I didn't have the opportunity to seek support in that district the same as those people running for (Shaner's) job didn't have the opportunity to seek support in my district.”

Mancuso said Tuesday evening that it is unclear whether she is able to run against Cramer, but added: “If I'm able to be in, I'm in.” Mancuso declined further comment until further exploring the issue with her advisors and contacting the Fayette County Election Bureau.

Kasunic said he was “shell shocked” upon hearing about the court's decision.

“I really have no comment, because I didn't know about the ruling. I'm dumfounded.” Jaynes said, while on patrol Tuesday evening.

“I have to gather more information and see what I'm going to have to do. If I can run, I'll still run. If not, I'll regroup and come up with another plan.”

Also at issue is the state residency requirement, which stipulates candidates for magisterial district judge must live in the districts in which they are seeking office for one year.

Contacted Tuesday afternoon, Fayette County Election Bureau director Larry Blosser said he was unaware of the court's decision, adding he will contact the Pennsylvania Department of State.

Ron Ruman, Department of State press secretary, said the issue will ultimately be decided by either Fayette County President Judge John F. Wagner Jr., the Fayette County Election Bureau or a “collaboration of both.”

“Part of it portends on when the current justice will retire,” Ruman said.

“In our opinion, it would be fine, but it's not our decision to make. Our recommendations to counties has been, when you're consolidating districts, people being brought in the new district not be blocked by our residency requirement.”

Cramer said he was prepared for the increased workload in what will become – geographically – one of largest magisterial districts in western Pennsylvania, as well as relocation to a more centralized part of the district, such as Star Junction.

“That was the premise of our community court system, to try and make yourself accessible. Personally, looking on the map, (Routes) 51 and 201 would be a good intersection of two arteries that come through the two major parts of the district,” Cramer said.

“Frankly, I'd rather be busy. We're going to deal with this a little bit at a time and get it done.”

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbruni@tribweb.com or 724-684-2635.

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