Judge Craig Dally administers Northampton County's problem-solving courts. His Drug Court has been especially successful in weaning addicted persons like myself off the drug of their choice. In the process, he has no doubt saved lives, not just of the addicts themselves but those they touch. As noble as this effort is, Judge Dally has been the go-to judge for problems of a different sort - ballot challenges. He did an excellent job handling them four years ago, and did so again this week after conducting hearings on seven ballot challenges. An eighth challenged candidate, Ilda Perna, voluntarily withdrew.
Judge Dally sustained all the challenges before him, except for the objections filed by Magisterial District Judge candidate Andrew Tupone.
Based on Judge Dally's rulings, which you can read for yourself below, there are the following takeaways:
1) The Election Code must be construed liberally to preserve a candidate's right to run for office and voter choice. A nomination ios presumed valid, and those who file challenges have a heavy burden of proving defects. If there is any doubt, it must be resolved in favor of the candidate.
2) Despite the liberal construction of the Election Code, there is one area in which courts have no discretion. When someone runs for office, he must attach a state form called a Statement of Financial Interests to his nomination petition, and must file it both at the Elections Office and with the political subdivision in which office is sought. Two candidates - Phil Taverna (Palmer Tp Supervisor) and Tanya Keller (Easton Area School Director) - failed to follow this statutory imperative. As Judge Dally sadly noted, "[T]he court is not empowered to override this statutory directive."
Tanya Keller is a first-time candidate and justice was clearly on her side. Unfortunately, we are not dealing with justice, but the law. The court has no power to re-write a mandatory requirement.
3) If the same person signs two nomination petitions for the same office, only the earlier signature shall be honored. This is what invalidated Tony Rybak's GOP nomination petition for Magisterial District Judge in South Bethlehem. The Elections Code clearly states that a voter may only sign one nomination petition for an elected office. If a voter does so, it is only the earlier signature that will count.
Unfortunately, Rybak obtained signatures from 20 Republicans who had already signed Jordan Knisley's GOP petition. Because of that defect, his GOP nomination petition was set aside. He can still run as a Democrat. In a heavily Democratic district like South Bethlehem, Jordan Knisley might have actually done Rybak a favor.
4) It's always a good idea to obtain at least twice as many signatures as you need. This failure did in three candidates. Dellise Huertas (Bethlehem Area School Director), Jason Gerhard (Lower Nazareth Constable) and Emmanuel Jah-El (Norco Council) obtained far too signatures. They were no doubt hampered by the pandemic, but opened themselves up to signature challenges.
5) Don't be petty. Andrew Tupone, who works for Northampton County, wants to be a magisterial district judge. He ran for the office six years ago and lost. Pat Broscius won on both sides of ballot in the primary despite a plethora of candidates. Tupone decided his best bet was to knock her off instead of letting voters have a say. He filed objections to facial defects in Broscius' nomination petition, which she easily cured.
At the hearing, all she had to do is sit there and look smart while both prominent Attorney Brian Monahan and Judge Dally himself destroyed Tupone's arguments. Tupone not only nitpicked at Broscius, but even tried playing that game with Monahan's answer. In the process, he proved he'd be a terrible magisterial district judge. Tupne's objections, which consisted of goofy claims like her failure to note the date if the election, were clearly frivolous.
6) Get a lawyer. - Well-known and highly regarded attorneys represented some of the objectors. This included flamboyant Gary Asteak and other seasoned lawyers like Steve Goudzousian, Brian Monahan and April Cordts. I am shocked at the number of people involved here who chose to represent themselves. If Tanya Keller had a lawyer, she might have been able to exclude a bare letter from Easton school officials as hearsay in the objection to her candidacy as an Easton School Director. Many attorneys will waive a fee for matters like this, which are basic to our democracy.
Updated 7:15 am.