|Sultana (left) with Bethlehem City Council member Olga Negron|
Prominent Bethlehem Attorney Vic Scomillio represented Hall (Vulcano) at yesterday's hearing. His objection (you can read it here) is quite simple. Sultana fails to meet the one-year residency requirement in Easton's Home Rule Charter. It states that "[o]nly those who are and have been for at least one (1) year registered voters of the City shall be eligible to hold the office of Council Member or Mayor." Since Sultana only registered to vote on February 23 of this year, she's ineligible.
Sultana, representing herself, responded the "state constitution is bigger than city rules" and only imposes a 90-day residency requirement. I am unable to find such a requirement. I did see a one year requirement for state senators (Art. II, Section 5) and judges (Art V, Section 12 ), as well as a seven year residency requirement for Governor and Attorney General (Art V, Section 12). So it seems her reliance on the state constitution is misplaced
But if you look more closely at the Charter, you can argue that she is eligible to run and even get elected. A strict reading of the Charter provides only that she is unable to hold the office of City Council until she establishes one year of residency. So in effect, he position would be vacant for one month and 23 days. On February 23, she could be sworn into office. Voters going to the polls will know this, and they could decide themselves whether to elect someone who is unable to serve until February 23. If she wins, then someone seeking to remove her could file a removal action, which is called a quo warranto.
Any objection to Sultana's nomination petition must be based on whether the Elections Code or the State Ethics Act is violated, not Easton's Home Rule Charter. An example of what I mean can be found in a Commonwealth Court case decided in 2009 called In re May. In that matter, a judge candidate was challenged for engaging in inappropriate political activity in violation of the Rules of Judicial Conduct. But the objection was dismissed. "[N]either the Election Code nor the Ethics Act require candidates for judicial office to conform to the Canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct in order to be placed on an election ballot."
Courts must liberally construe the Election Code to protect a candidate's right to run for public office as well as a voter's right to elect a candidate of his or her choice. Nothing in Easton's Home Rule Charter prevents Sultana from running for the Office. And nothing in the Elections Code incorporates the provisions of local home rule charters. As Sultana herself said, "This restriction of [the] City of Easton will not only victimize me and my more than 200 supporters of [the] south side of Easton, but also those voters who want to express their opinion and freedom of choice in the coming election."
This challenge is premature.
Another argument that Sultana can make is that the challenge to her fails to conform with the specificity required by the state supreme court.
(1) the petition to set aside must be filed within seven (7) days after the last day for filing the challenged nomination petition or paper; (2) the petition must specifically set forth the objections; (3) the petition must contain a prayer that the nomination petition or paper be set aside; and (4) the petition must be served upon the officer or board with whom the nomination petition or paper was filed.In this case, Sultana, a nonlawyer, was served with on March 13th with a document entitled "Objection to Nomination Petition of Terrence Miller." This did nothing but mislead her.
"Just give me chance," Sultana implored Judge Dally on Thursday. We'll find out Tuesday whether a grass roots candidate can overcome an entrenched member of Council using high-powered legal maneuvers to deprive the people of Easton of a choice they deserve.