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Battaglia decision may take months to reach

| Thursday, May 2, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

KITTANNING — It may be months before a judgment is made in a civil case in which plaintiffs contend Armstrong County Commissioner Chairman David Battaglia violated election laws during the 2011 election campaign.

Arguments were heard by visiting Westmoreland County Senior Judge William J. Ober during a motion for summary judgment hearing on Wednesday at the Armstrong County Courthouse.

“After one-and-a-half years of litigation and investigation, it's time to put it to rest,” said Jesse Daniel, of the Serene Law firm of Indiana, representing the “Friends of Dave Battaglia” campaign committee.

However, after presenting arguments, Daniel requested that Ober grant him more time to file additional arguments in the case.

Ober agreed to the request and granted Daniel five days from Wednesday to file the paperwork. Five consecutive days were granted to Leechburg attorney Chuck Pascal to file a response.

Pascal is representing six county residents who set the litigation and investigation into motion on Feb. 2 of last year when they petitioned Armstrong County Court for an audit of Battaglia's original Oct. 28, 2011, campaign finance report and an amended report filed on Nov. 4, 2011.

Battaglia was elected to his position of county commissioner on Nov. 8 of that year.

The six allege there were discrepancies in the report concerning how a sum of $7,800 in campaign contributions was filed.

During Wednesday's hearing, Pascal said that sum was originally listed as an anonymous contribution, which was later brought to the attention of Wendy Buzard, the county's elections director.

It is required by law that all names and addresses of those contributing more than $50 be recorded in a candidate's campaign finance report.

In the amended report, the entire $7,800 was moved from the $250 and above category to the $50 or less category, said Pascal.

The petitioners allege that after the petition for audit was filed, the committee submitted a revised amended report revealing that of the questioned $7,800, $2,500 was received from Timothy R. and Kimberly J. Brown, $2,500 was received from Malinda R. and Matthew J. Oesterling, and $500 was received from Charles and Kristen Echnoz.

According to the document, the source of the remaining $2,300 could not be identified and would be submitted to the state treasurer.

Pascal told the court Wednesday that Battaglia and a Mr. Evans, a certified public accountant and treasurer of the committee whose first name is not listed on court papers, testified in an earlier deposition that neither had read the campaign expense reporting law.

“Battaglia testified that he recalls receiving the checks in the mail from Brown and Oesterling, but that he does not recall depositing the checks,” said Pascal adding that Battaglia acknowledged that the only people who could have deposited the checks were himself Evans or Evans' wife – both of whom were out of town when the checks were deposited.

Daniel argued that there has been no violation in the election code and that the discrepancies were minor and came down to honest mistakes.

“There was no willful intent to break the election law,” said Daniel.

“These were trivial, innocent errors. There was no harm to the public,” he said, adding that it was unlikely a line of voters had been to the courthouse wanting to know where the money came from.

However, Ober noted that the point of having a public record is so that the information is available for voters to make an informed decision in an election.

The petitioners are Tanya Gladysiewski, of Ford City, and Randy Cloak, David Wolfe, David Jack, Sherry Piccola and Richard Depner, all of Kittanning. Wolfe ran unsuccessfully on the Democratic ticket for county commissioner in November, 2011. Cloak is a 2nd Ward write-in candidate for Kittanning Borough Council and is the former treasurer of the Armstrong County Republican Committee.

After the hearing, Wolfe expressed his frustration for the delay in a ruling and said he was upset with the evidence in the case.

“The public was hurt,” said Wolfe. “The people of Armstrong County deserve better.”

After the hearing, Pascal noted that it could take weeks before Ober has a chance to review the additional information and adjust his schedule for another hearing.

Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or bbeatty@tribweb.com.

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