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Fayette DA faces familiar opponent in Tuesday's primary

| Monday, May 19, 2003

Fayette County District Attorney Nancy D. Vernon will face a familiar opponent - Uniontown attorney John Cupp - in the May 20 primary election.

Vernon and Cupp are vying for the Democratic nomination. No Republican candidate has filed to run.

Cupp, an assistant solicitor for the county, lost a race to Vernon in 1999. Now he is hoping to capitalize on her unsuccessful challenge to his nominating petitions.

Vernon attempted to have Cupp thrown off the ballot by challenging the validity of several signatures on his petitions. But Fayette County Judge John F. Wagner found the challenge without merit.

Both sought the District Attorney's post in 1999 after Vernon's former boss, now Fayette County Judge Ralph Warman, stepped down when he was appointed judge.

With one term under her belt, Vernon said she believes her experience makes her the best candidate for the job.

"It's nice to know when you go home at night that you've made a difference, like giving closure to a grieving family," she said.

Cupp has little criminal court experience, she charged.

Cupp represented convicted killer David Munchinski for years through his post-trial appeals, but he dropped the case, saying it was too time-consuming, two years ago.

Cupp said he is upset that Vernon has refused to debate him.

"I think it would be beneficial to the public to compare our skills and knowledge. Unfortunately, she does not agree," he said.

Vernon said she refused because Cupp compared her decision to challenge his nominating petitions to one that could have been made by the Baath regime in Iraq.

Vernon said she has begun several initiatives that have made the District Attorney's Office run more efficiently.

She said her ideas, such as having assistant district attorneys prosecute cases starting with preliminary hearings, have led to a smoother operation in the office.

She also said that her office implemented the automotive "interlock" program before it became state law. Using a breath test, the interlock device gauges whether a motorist is intoxicated before allowing the vehicle to start.

In addition, Vernon said, her office teamed up with A Hand to Hold, a program that encourages young women not to abandon their babies and allows them to drop off unwanted newborns at hospitals without repercussions.

Cupp said he believes he has superior skills as a lawyer, and pointed to Vernon's hiring of Uniontown law firm Davis & Davis to contest his nominating petitions.

"You saw I had the confidence to represent myself. She didn't," he said.

Cupp also pointed to cases where he said appeals courts have chided Vernon for "disingenuous" arguments, and said his administration will be smoother and more responsible.

"I'll be in court. I'll show up," he said.

A former Republican, Cupp switched to the Democratic Party four years ago. Fayette County has significantly more Democrats than Republicans, but he said he made the switch for other reasons.

"I find myself more aligned with the Democratic Party as a trial lawyer," he said.

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