The Lead

16 days later, no ruling in W.Pa House race petition challenge

By: - March 26, 2020 1:22 pm

(*This story has been updated to correctly reflect that Judge Patty McCullough is a judge of Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. An earlier version of this story misidentified her position)

By Charlie Deitch

Petition challenges are a primary season constant.

A challenge is made, usually regarding the validity of petition signatures, sometimes regarding residency requirements or other issues. A hearing date is then set and the parties go to court. Usually the court handles these over a two or three day period and a lot of times rulings are made that day.

On occasion, though, a judge will ask attorneys to file briefs and then make a ruling within a day or two. That’s what happened on March 11 when *Commonwealth Court Judge Patty McCullough held a hearing on a challenge to the validity of about 360 signatures on the petition of Heather Kass, the controversial candidate running to replace retiring state Rep. Harry Readshaw in the South Hills. Attorneys filed briefs by the March 13 deadline.

But, so far, nothing has happened.

“Welcome to Day 16,” attorney Chuck Pascal told the Pittsburgh CurrentThursday. Pascal, a Democratic Party attorney who has filed and defended scores of these challenges over the years, called the delay “unusual.”

In fact, of the 51 petition challenges across the state, the challenge against Kass’ is the only case that has not yet been ruled on, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State’s website.

(Screenshot via The Pittsburgh Current)

“Even in complicated cases, it doesn’t take this long to get a ruling,” Pascal said. “And I argue that this is not a complicated case. Normally a judge will rule and, if necessary, write an opinion later.”

Pascal says rulings are typically made quickly so there is time for an appeal. And while the Primary has been pushed to June 2, that just happened recently. And unfortunately, Pascal said, there’s not much that the parties involved can do about it.

“All we can do is wait,” Pascal said. “But until there is a ruling, everyone is left in limbo.”

Voter Thomas Wagner, who lives in District 36, filed the challenge over hundreds of the signatures on Kass’ petition. Some were challenged because they were circulated by a person who is not a registered Democrat and many others were challenged for various reasons, including faulty addresses and information being added in by persons other than the signatory.

Charlie Deitch is the editor of the Pittsburgh Current, where this story first appeared.

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