Judge dismisses Armstrong petition against Battaglia allies
An out-of-county judge has dismissed a civil petition brought against the Friends of Dave Battaglia, finding there were no substantial election code violations committed by Armstrong County Board of Commissioners Chairman David Battaglia or by Andrew Evans, his campaign committee treasurer, during Battaglia's 2011 election campaign.
Westmoreland County Senior Judge William J. Ober's ruling, dated Nov. 15, notes: “Although counsel for petitioners advances for argument that the reporting errors were made willfully and intentionally, the evidence does not support this conclusion.”
Attorney Jesse D. Daniel, of the Serene Law firm in Indiana, represents the Friends of Dave Battaglia campaign committee. He said on Tuesday that he was pleased with the outcome.
“The committee is very happy with the decision,” Daniel said. “The court confirmed what we have maintained since the beginning: the committee did not accept contributions in violation of the law, nor did it act in a criminal fashion.”
Leechburg attorney Charles Pascal — who is representing petitioners Tanya Gladysiewski, Randy Cloak, David Wolfe, David Jack, Sherry Piccola and Richard Depner in the case — said Tuesday he had no problem with the judge's decision concerning inadvertent bookkeeping errors in the initial campaign report filed by the campaign committee on Oct. 28, 2011.
Pascal said, however, that he had a problem with the second amended finance report filed on Nov. 4, 2011, which his clients alleged contained false entries.
“That, in my opinion, is where the legal problem really is,” Pascal said, adding that Ober did not address the second report in his court order and opinion.
The plaintiffs alleged that $7,800 (made up of two separate cash deposits of $1,500 and $800 and three separate checks totaling $5,500) in campaign contributions was improperly recorded during Battaglia's campaign with discrepancies remaining unresolved in both the initial Oct. 28, 2011, finance report and an amended report filed on Nov. 4, 2011.
The full sum of $7,800 was filed in the initial campaign report as an anonymous contribution, but after County Elections Director Wendy Buzard told Evans and Battaglia it was illegal to list an amount of more than $50 as anonymous, the amount was moved from the $250 and above category to the $50 or less category in an amended report.
Ober noted in his decision that two separate “cash contributions totaling $2,300 were not properly recorded in the denomination of each” and must be paid to the state treasurer.
He went on to note that “the inaccurate information contained in the campaign financial report was not a substantial violation.”
Daniel said in response to Pascal's concerns that “the Judge listened to the testimony of both the committee's treasurer and Commissioner Battaglia in which they clearly stated that they thought they were acting lawfully.
“The petitioners tried to discredit their testimony by citing the amended report. After listening to the testimony and petitioners' argument, the judge found that the treasurer and Commissioner Battaglia were telling the truth. That was the right decision,” Daniel said.
Pascal said there is a possibility of an appeal and added that if there is an appeal, it must be filed within the next 30 days.
Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303.