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State representative Wheatley sued over cake-baking contest prize

| Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, 12:05 a.m.
Jasmine Goldband
Denise Robinson of Manchester (right) gives her 4-month-old granddaughter Sophia Robinson a kiss as her daughter LaShae Robinson, 21 of Manchester bakes a cake Thursday, October 11, 2012. LaShae Robinson, a student at La Roche College, likes to bake in her free time. On Sept. 8th she won a baking contest sponsored by Rep. Jake Wheatley at the 10th Annual Community Appreciation Day. Wheatley only paid Robinson half of the $200 prize that was promised on the flyer advertising the event. 'It's not about the money. But if you don't stand by your word, you don't have anything. Especially when you're a state rep,' said Denise Robinson. Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Tribune-Review
Rep. Jake Wheatley arrives at Municipal Court for his hearing, Downtown on Thursday afternoon, May 10, 2012. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review

A Manchester woman and her daughter filed a small claims lawsuit against state Rep. Jake Wheatley over a $200 prize for winning a cake-baking competition.

Denise Robinson, 55, and her daughter LaShae Robinson, 21, said Wheatley awarded them $100 for LaShae Robinson's homemade pineapple upside down cake at the 10th annual Community Appreciation Day at Kennard Field in the Hill District. A flier for the Sept. 8 event said the winner would receive $200.

“It's not about the money,” said Denise Robinson, a paralegal who is a registered Democrat. “He is my state representative. I own my house. I pay taxes and I vote. That was just a smack in the face. If my state rep will breach a contract for $200, then what is he doing for $200,000?”

Wheatley, 40, a Democrat from the Hill District who is running unopposed in the Nov. 6 general election, said contestants were told beforehand that the $200 prize was contingent upon the number of entries, even if the flier didn't say so.

“The whole concept was supposed to be a 50/50 raffle. There was a $10 entry fee and if all slots were paid for, we'd match that $100 with another $100,” he said. “We're not trying to enrich people. We're just trying to make it lively. I never anticipated having to show up in a courtroom trying to defend a prize that we're giving away.”

Duquesne University Chancellor John Murray, who teaches contract law, said that without “an express condition concerning the number of entries required to assure the $200 prize,” Wheatley owes Robinson $200.

“The fact that the event did not transpire the way the organizers would have liked is irrelevant. Every contract includes risks. Some are more profitable than others, but the duty you undertake is not excused because it was not as successful as you would have liked,” Murray said.

The Robinsons used $94 of the $100 they won in the cake competition to file the complaint. They are seeking $1,000. A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 7.

Denise Robinson said the additional money is for pain and suffering and the humiliation. Small-claims court does not award damages for pain and suffering.

“It's a matter of principle,” Denise Robinson said. “If he puts out a flier, he should honor that.”

LaShae Robinson, a senior sociology major at LaRoche College in McCandless, said she was disappointed after staying up the night before the competition to bake.

“I hope that justice is served,” she said.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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