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Judge says St. Thomas candidcates can be on November ballot

September 13, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Saying it was "in the interest of truth, justice and the American Way," Franklin County Judge John Walker has ruled that nine St. Thomas Township residents may be on the November ballot as candidates for a government study commission.

On Monday, Thomas Linzey, the attorney for Fred Walls, the candidate who challenged the nomination papers, filed notice in county court that Walker's decision will be appealed to Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.

"In a democracy, people should be encouraged to run for office," not penalized for the county Election Board's failure to provide them with proper forms in a timely fashion, Walker said Friday. The judge said he initially made up his mind to strike eight of the nine from the ballot, but changed it after a county election official testified Friday afternoon.

Walker's decision leaves a field of 16 for the seven-seat commission that could draft a home rule charter for the township if voters approved a referendum that will also be on the ballot. St. Thomas Alliance for a New Direction (STAND) endorsed Walls, Cheryl Stearn, John Tiedemann, Michael Urban, Robert Pismeny, Audrey Tozer and Larry Tinberg.

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The nine challenged candidates, who were not represented by counsel at Friday's hearing, are Edmund G. Herald, David C. Ramer, James Faith Jr., James E. Light, Mark A. Lynch, Wanda L. Walls, Clara M. May, Thomas M. Hull Jr. and James S. Smith.

Linzey argued Friday that the nominating papers of the nine contained a number of omissions and flaws, citing state election law and case law.

All nine omitted a vacancy committee to name a successor candidate should they withdraw or die, Linzey said. Because the commission is nonpartisan, naming a vacancy committee is required by state election law, he said.

"If you're right on that, you win," Walker told Linzey, although he said he had run for district attorney and judge several times and never heard of a vacancy committee.

Linzey also cited candidates for failing to list the office for which they are running, the township in which they are running, the date of the election and other "fatal defects."

"If they filed on Aug. 29, it doesn't take a nuclear scientist to figure out it's for the fall election," Walker said.

County Chief Deputy Clerk Jean Byers testified the nine candidates contacted her on Aug. 17 asking for nominating forms for the commission, but the Pennsylvania Department of State told her no such form existed.

A department official advised the county to use another form as a template, remove political party references and insert language from the state's home rule law, Byers testified. She testified she also consulted with an election official in Lancaster County, which has a countywide home rule referendum this fall, and its nomination forms made no mention of a vacancy committee.

With an Aug. 29 filing deadline, Byers testified she was pressed for time to draft a form, but one was made available to the nine candidates on Aug. 21.

Linzey said the nominating form for the seven STAND candidates was "drafted from scratch" using examples from home rule forms used by two townships in other counties.

Walker said he intended to remove all the challenged candidates except Herald, who filed for a 90-day extension under the Solders' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act because he is on military duty in Kuwait.

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