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Shutdown of court in Fayette hangs over primary

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 1:26 a.m.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania on Tuesday ordered the elimination of the magisterial district court covered by retiring Magisterial District Judge Dwight K. Shaner.

The office will be merged with the office of Magisterial District Judge Jesse Cramer effective Jan. 1.

The court occupied by Cramer will inherit the municipalities of Dawson, Dunbar, Everson, Perryopolis and Vanderbilt boroughs and Dunbar, Franklin, Lower Tyrone, Perry and Upper Tyrone townships.

Cramer's office 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 the year under the old district's configuration. After his final day on Dec. 31, Shaner's area will be dissolved and become part of Cramer's jurisdiction.

What remains unclear is whether candidates jockeying for Shaner's post will be permitted to run against Cramer for the new district's post.

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

Several people have announced their candidacy for Shaner's court, including his daughter, Soni Shaner Mancuso; and Richard Kasunic Jr., son of state Sen. Richard Kasunic. Also announcing his candidacy is Connellsville police Detective Lt. Kenneth H. Jaynes. All live in Dunbar Township.

Cramer, who has announced his bid for re-election, said he empathizes with the candidates, but he doesn't believe they could re-enter the race.

He referred to the final line of the Supreme Court's order that 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 that it's unclear if she is able to run against Cramer, but added: “If I'm able to be in, I'm in.”

She declined further comment, saying she will look into the issue further, along with her advisers, and contact the Fayette County Election Bureau.

Kasunic said he is “shell-shocked” hearing about the court's decision and would comment at a later time.

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

Election Bureau Director Larry Blosser said he is unaware of the court's decision and that he will contact the state Department of State.

Ron Ruman, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of State, said the issue on who would be eligible to seek nomination for the new office ultimately will 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 is prepared for the increased workload of what would become one of the geographically 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.

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