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Judge's resignation clouds pending vote

August 30, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The health-related resignation of Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge William H. Kaye gives political parties just two weeks to pick nominees to appear on the Nov. 2 ballot in Franklin and Fulton counties.

In a letter dated Aug. 25, the 52-year-old judge informed Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge that he is resigning effective Sept. 30.

Kaye was in court hearing cases Monday morning but left at lunch time. His secretary, Kathy Barnhart, said he was not taking any questions about his resignation.

"I have served in this capacity for over 12 years, and have loved almost every minute of it. Nonetheless, I was diagnosed with cancer nearly two years ago. In the interim, I have undergone numerous treatments ... in an effort to restore my health fully so I could continue in my position," Kaye wrote in his letter.

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"Regrettably, my stamina has not returned to the point where I can perform the duties of this demanding position consistently on a full-time basis," he wrote.

Kaye was appointed to the bench of the 39th District of the Court of Common Pleas in 1997 by former Gov. Bob Casey to become the district's third judge. In 1989 he was elected to a 10-year term and was scheduled to be on the ballot for retention for another 10 years.

According to Pennsylvania election law, Thursday, Sept. 2, is the last day a judge running for retention can withdraw by notifying the Secretary of the Commonwealth in writing. Political parties have until Monday, Sept. 13, to file nominating certificates with the secretary.

Because the district covers both Franklin and Fulton counties, state political party bylaws will supersede county bylaws for the selection of nominees. Franklin County Republican Committee Chairman Allen Twigg said members of both county's committees will meet Wednesday, Sept. 8, to consider a nominee.

"I would welcome any interested candidates to contact me," Twigg said.

One Republican attorney who has put her name forward is Carol Van Horn, president of the Franklin County Bar Association. Van Horn, 41, is a graduate of the Dickinson School of Law and has been a member of the county Bar Association since 1984.

"I think I can bring qualities of fairness to the bench, and I'd be very honored to serve with on the bench with the other three judges," Van Horn said of President Judge John R. Walker and Judges Douglas W. Herman and Richard J. Walsh. She is a partner in the law firm of Walker, Van Horn & MacBride, Chambersburg.

If elected, Van Horn would be the district's first woman judge.

Democratic Committee Chairman William Butts said he is awaiting information from the state Board of Elections about the procedure for picking a nominee.

"Nobody's stepped forward so far" to declare an interest in replacing Kaye, Butts said, adding, "I sure do want to replace Bill with another Democrat."

Normally, candidates for the bench can cross-file in the primary, but there is no primary race when a judge is running for retention.

Twigg said Kaye's position has to be filled by election and not by an appointment. If the parties do not pick nominees, he said the election could become a contest of write-in candidates.

Around the county, those who have worked with Kaye expressed sadness to hear he is leaving.

"I'm sorry his illness has caused this action to occur. I'm glad he'll be able to focus on restoring his health," said Assistant District Attorney David W. Rahauser, who ran unsuccessfully against Kaye in 1989.

"It's been a pleasure to work in his courtroom ... He's definitely a gentleman and a scholar," said Donna Reese, a deputy clerk of courts who frequently works in Kaye's courtroom.

"I'm sorry to see him leaving the bench," attorney Michael J. Toms said.

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