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Counting continues for DA's office in Washington County

| Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011

The race to decide the next Washington County district attorney will move into a third day today as county administrators continue to count absentee ballots in a race separated by 103 votes.

Republican Gene Vittone leads Democrat Dave DiCarlo -- 20,868 to 20,765 votes -- with fewer than 700 absentee ballots yet to be counted. The two former assistant district attorneys are vying to replace Steve Toprani, who did not seek re-election.

The candidates and a few of their watchers huddled in a small office at the county department of elections as director Larry Spahr ran absentee ballots one at a time through a machine that tallied each one.

Onlookers looked over Spahr's shoulder to see which ovals were filled in.

"It's exciting. It's the first time in almost 50 years there's not an incumbent district attorney running," said DiCarlo, 45, of Peters. "It's literally a 50-50 split. I never expected to be in a small cramped office hovering over a computer screen counting votes."

Vittone said the close race shows both candidates worked very hard.

"I'm cautiously optimistic. I don't think anybody knew it was going to be this close," said Vittone, 51, of Bentleyville. "We're going to keep our fingers crossed."

Officials won't count military ballots until next week, Spahr said, but not all have been received yet.

Vittone said he was a prosecutor in the office for more than 10 years. DiCarlo said he was a prosecutor there for 2 1/2 years.

Democrat J. Bracken Burns, a longtime county commissioner who did not seek re-election, said a referendum over natural gas drilling in Peters helped turn out more voters in the traditionally Republican area. In Peters, the turnout was 42 percent, although the rest of the county registered about 23 percent, he said.

Changes in the county courthouse won't stop with the top prosecutor. Gary Gilman, a Democrat, beat Republican Lane Turturice for an open seat in Common Pleas court.

Gilman will join his wife, Judge Katherine Emery, on the bench. Court watchers said the fact that two of the county's six judges will live under the same roof is not an issue.

"It doesn't really matter at all. It's much less of a conflict than a lawyer and a judge being married," Duquesne University law professor Bruce Ledewitz said. "Two judges being married have no real connection at the Common Pleas level."

Washington County Bar Association President Jeff Olup agreed. "I don't think there will be any issue whatsoever," Olup said.

Gilman, 49, of North Strabane, who has worked as a hearing officer in Allegheny County, said, "I'm thrilled" to win the seat.

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