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Indiana candidate challenge dismissed

| Friday, April 22, 2005

Indiana County President Judge William Martin dismissed a lawsuit challenging the candidacy of a retired police officer seeking a district judgeship.

At a hearing Thursday, Martin ruled that the candidate who filed the lawsuit, Michael J. Reilly, had done so too late.

Last week, Reilly sued Guy Haberl, a retired Indiana Borough police officer, contending that Haberl wasn't eligible to run because he didn't meet a residency requirement.

Election law dictates that candidates for an office must have lived within the boundaries of that office for at least 12 months prior to an election. Reilly said Haberl had moved into the district now presided over by District Judge Richard Orendorff only a few months ago.

Specifically, he contended that Haberl moved from his home at 125 Locust Lane, which is outside the district, to a home at 433 Elm St. in October 2004, and then to his newly built home at 321 Forest Ridge Road in January. He also contended that Haberl had changed his address to, but had never lived at, the Elm Street address.

The residency issue was never argued in court yesterday. Instead, Haberl's attorney, Robert Lambert, moved for the challenge to be dismissed because Reilly hadn't filed it in time.

Lambert said there is a seven-day window for people to file challenges against candidates and, more importantly, their nominating petitions. And that window, he said, closed on March 15. Reilly filed the lawsuit on April 14.

Reilly, who represented himself, argued that he wasn't challenging Haberl's nominating petitions, but rather his residency. That, he said, is more serious than names and other information on a petition. Therefore, he said, his challenge should be exempt from the seven-day rule.

But Martin, citing case law, said his challenge was, indeed, against the nominating petitions.

"It's very unfortunate," Reilly said after the hearing.

Though Haberl's residency was not argued in court, his attorney had filed a response to the lawsuit in the prothonotary's office earlier in the day.

According to the response, Haberl had lived at 125 Locust Lane for 11 years, from 1992 to 2003. All that time, the house was within the realm of the district court. However, the boundary lines were redrawn, and in January 2003, Haberl's home fell into another judicial district.

Haberl said that he had been considering a run before the change occurred. He had taken and passed the Minor Judiciary Education Board's qualifying exam in 2002. District justices who are not lawyers must pass the test before they can hold office.

So after the redistricting, Haberl decided to move. He and his wife bought a piece of land in White Township's Whites Woods section and started building a house.

When they realized that the house wouldn't be finished by Nov. 8, 2004, the deadline to establish residency, they moved into a friend's home at 433 Elm St. in October 2004. Haberl said his friend wasn't there at the time. He also said it was legal residence.

Haberl said he was happy with the decision and that he was disappointed with Reilly's tactics.

"Elections should be based on qualifications," Haberl said.

About a month ago, Haberl's campaign had the name of a third opponent, Paula Elbel, removed from the Republican ballot.

Theodore J. Amick, a campaign worker, had argued that one of her nominating petitions was invalid because it had been circulated by a woman who lived outside the district. Under election law, people who circulate nominating petitions must live in the district in which their candidate is running.

The petition contained 24 signatures, 23 of which were valid. When the petition was tossed out, Elbel fell five signatures short of the required 100 to have her name placed on the ballot.

Her name is still on the Democratic ballot. She is mounting a write-in campaign on the Republican ticket.

She attended the hearing yesterday but declined to comment.

Reilly said he isn't sure whether he'll appeal the ruling to commonwealth court. But he doesn't have much time to make a decision -- ballots are to begin being printed today.

The fourth candidate in the race is Vicki Robbins.

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