April 22, 1997
THE NOMINATING PETITION AND/OR PAPERS OF PAUL W. CAPRA AS REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE FOR THE WARWICK TOWNSHIP BOARD OF SUPERVISORS FOR THE MUNICIPAL PRIMARY ELECTION FOR THE YEAR 1997, DAVID JESKIE, APPELLANT
Appealed From No. 97-02036. Common Pleas Court of the County of Bucks. Judge GARB.
Before: Honorable James Gardner Colins, President Judge, Honorable Joseph T. Doyle, Judge, Honorable Charles P. Mirarchi, Jr., Senior Judge. Opinion BY Judge Doyle.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Doyle
OPINION BY JUDGE DOYLE
FILED: April 22, 1997
David Jeskie appeals a decision of the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County which denied his Petition to Set Aside the Nominating Petition of Paul W. Capra as a Republican candidate for the Warwick Township Board of Supervisors for the municipal primary scheduled for May 20, 1997.
On March 10, 1997, Capra filed his nomination petition, seeking to be placed on the Republican ballot for the primary election. Prior to that date, on March 7, 1997, Capra invited Larry Edwards, an incumbent Supervisor on the Township Board of Supervisors, to his home and asked Edwards to deliver Capra's Statement of Financial Interests, the filing of which is required by Section 4(b)(2) of the Public Officials and Employee Ethics Act (Ethics Act), *fn1 to the Warwick Township office. Edwards, however, did not deliver Capra's financial interest statement to the Warwick Township Office until March 12, 1997, which was one day after the deadline for doing so. *fn2
On March 17, 1997, Jeskie filed a Petition to Set Aside the Nominating Petition of Capra on the basis that Capra failed to file the required financial interest statement in a timely manner. A hearing was held before the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County on March 21, 1997. By opinion and order dated April 4, 1997, the trial court denied Jeskie's Petition to Set Aside Capra's Nominating Petition, concluding that "the submission to the chairman of the board of township supervisors of the financial statement constitutes filing the statement with the governing authority of the political subdivision for which Capra aspires to become a candidate." This appeal ensued. *fn3
On appeal, Jeskie argues that the trial court erred in holding that the delivery of the Statement of Financial Interests to an incumbent member of the Township Board of Supervisors at Capra's home on March 7, 1997, constituted "filing" the statement with "the governing authority of the political subdivision" required by Section 4(b)(2) of the Ethics Act. After a review of the record and relevant case law, we must agree and, accordingly, reverse the order of the Common Pleas Court.
Section 4(b)(2) of the Ethics Act provides as follows:
(2) Any candidate for county-level or local office shall file a statement of financial interests for the preceding calendar year with the governing authority of the political subdivision in which he is a candidate on or before the last day for filing a petition to appear on the ballot for election. A copy of the statement of financial interests shall also be appended to such petition.
65 P.S. § 404(b)(2) (emphasis added). Furthermore, Section 4(b)(3) of the Ethics Act provides in pertinent part as follows:
(3) . . . Failure to file the statement in accordance with the provisions of this act shall, in addition to any other penalties provided, be a fatal defect to a petition to appear on the ballot.
65 P.S. § 404(b)(3). *fn4
We first observe that, even from a cursory reading of Section 4(b)(2), it is abundantly clear that there are two "filings" required under the Ethics Act: first, the original statement of financial interests must be filed with the "governing authority" of the political subdivision in which the individual is a candidate; and second, a copy of that statement must be attached to the candidate's nomination petition. Attaching a copy of the statement to the nominating petition alone and filing it with the county election board will obviously not satisfy both filing requirements under the Ethics Act.
The facts in this present appeal are nearly identical to those before this Court in In re Petition of Cioppa, 139 Pa. Commw. 314, 590 A.2d 821 (Pa. Commw. 1991), rev'd per curiam, 527 Pa. 284, 590 A.2d 752 (1991) (without opinion), supplemented, 533 Pa. 564, 626 A.2d 146 (1993). In Cioppa, three prospective candidates for council seats in the Borough of Braddock Hills purported to "file" the required financial interest statements by hand-delivering them, via one particular candidate, to a Braddock Hills council member prior to the filing deadline. The councilman accepted the statements from the prospective candidate and assured the candidate that he would deliver the three statements to the Borough Secretary that evening. However, after becoming involved in a borough meeting, the councilman forgot to deliver the statements that evening as promised and did not deliver them to the Borough Secretary until after the filing deadline.
By opinion dated April 25, 1991, this Court ultimately held in Cioppa that the nomination petitions of the candidates should be set aside, reasoning that the candidates had failed to comply with Section 4(b)(2) of the Ethics Act when the financial interest statements were merely handed to a council member and not otherwise filed in a timely manner.
Shortly thereafter, the Supreme Court reversed our decision by a per curiam order dated May 10, 1991. In re Petition of Cioppa, 527 Pa. 619, 590 A.2d 759 (1991). An opinion was authored pursuant to the per curiam order over two years later in In re Petition of Cioppa, 533 Pa. 564, 626 A.2d 146 (1993). By this time, the relevant election had occurred, all of the candidates at issue had appeared on the ballot, and some of the candidates had been elected into office. In the Supreme Court's plurality opinion, the Court ultimately reaffirmed its previous per curiam order, which reversed the decision of this Court, but acknowledged that the reasoning of this Court in Cioppa was correct and appropriate under the circumstances:
When we entered our orders reversing the Commonwealth Court, our foremost concern was to insure that the challenged candidates' names appeared on the ballot given the time constraints imposed by the fast-approaching primary election. This concern was chiefly motivated by our perception that in each of these cases the spirit of the Ethics Act was complied with and to permit forfeiture of a candidacy would be too harsh a result in view of our liberal policy in this Commonwealth to favor enfranchisement. However, upon further review of the legislative mandate and its history, we are now convinced that the Commonwealth Court properly decided these cases, and that our May 10, 1991, orders reversing the Commonwealth Court were ill-advised.
We are now left with the question of crafting a remedy in this case. As a result of our May 10, 1991, orders, the six candidates involved here were permitted to appear on the primary ballot. To now void the results of an election where all candidates were submitted to the voters, with late but nonetheless filed financial statements which left adequate time for study by the electorate, would be an unnecessary disenfranchisement.
533 Pa. 569-79; 626 A.2d at 149 (emphasis added). The Court went on to say:
In the spirit of liberality in construing our Election Code, we decline to vacate our previous orders [which reversed the decision of the Commonwealth Court]. However, the rationale expressed in this opinion shall operate prospectively. In short, hereafter failure to file the requisite financial interest statement within the prescribed time shall be fatal to a candidacy.
533 Pa. at 570-71, 626 A.2d at 149 (emphasis added). The only logical Conclusion to be drawn from this language is that the delivery of the financial interest statements by the candidates to some person serving on the "governing authority" is insufficient to constitute a timely filing under Section 4(b)(2) of the Ethics Act.
Furthermore, it is clear that the reversal of this Court's decision in Cioppa was primarily the product of the exigencies of that particular case and that this Court's decision and rationale remains precedential for the issue implicated by the instant matter, despite the fact that the order of this Court was reversed on appeal. *fn5 Consequently, we find our reasoning in Cioppa to be exceptionally persuasive in this regard.
In our opinion in Cioppa, we stated as follows:
While we agree that there may be circumstances where a Councilmember or a Township Supervisor may receive the forms because of the "practical necessity" of the way the Borough or the Township operates, political culture is not itself sufficient to determine who is the governing authority. Braddock Hills has established a "seat of government," a borough building with full[-]time employees to serve as the locus of municipal activities. It's at that location where records are kept, papers are served and documents filed, including statements of financial responsibility. . . . Because it is necessary for a political subdivision to have order in the manner in which documents are to be filed, unless there is a showing of "practical necessity" for a document to be received otherwise, a Statement of Financial Interest is not filed until received by the Office of the Borough Secretary.
Id. at 823 (footnote omitted).
Similarly, in the appeal now before us, Warwick Township has a comparable "seat of government" where the required financial interest statement should have been filed. In fact, the appropriate place to file the financial interest statement was the very place where Capra asked Edwards to file it for him in the first place. At the hearing, Joseph Czajkowski, Township Manager and Secretary, testified as follows:
Q: Mr. Czajkowski, it's correct that you are the township manager and secretary?
Q: Is that a full-time position for you?
Q: Does the township maintain a township office which is manned during all business hours?
Q: Who's there in addition to yourself?
A: The receptionist/billing secretary, she [has] two functions, the administrative secretary, two finance people and building zoning officer.
Q: Is the township office that you've described, the place that's, at least by custom, designated for the submission of documents to the township?
A: Yes, it is.
Q: And a stamp is maintained there to provide the date and time for marking documents that are filed?
A: The date, not the time.
Q: Were you present in the township building during the date of [March] 11th?
A: Yes, I was.
Q: The day that the financial disclosure statement . . . must be filed.
Were you there the entire day?
A: Yes, with probably the exception of lunch.
Q: And in your absence, do you make certain that someone is there to take care of business?
A: Yes. I have instructions in this particular case, for all of the women in the office to date stamp these items.
Q: Everyone is authorized to receive papers?
(Notes of Testimony (N.T.), 3/21/97, at 20-22.)
Additionally at the March 21, 1997 hearing, Capra testified as follows:
Q: When you gave [the state of financial interest] to Mr. Edwards, you expected him to take that to the township office?
A: I expected him to file it for me, yes. I asked him to.
Q: And that would have been in the township office?
A: Yes. Yes, I did.
(N.T., 3/21/97, at 13.) Furthermore, Edwards testified as follows:
Q: Do you recall receiving the statement of financial interest from Mr. Capra in this case?
A: Yes, I do.
Q: Tell us when and under what circumstances.
A: I went -- he gave me a call. I went down to his house. It was around 7 or 7:30, I believe, and he asked me if I would file these papers.
Q: What day was that?
A: That was on Friday, March 7th. And he asked would I file the papers, and I said I'd be happy to do it for him.
(N.T., 3/21/97, at 15.)
Although handing the documents to the an incumbent township supervisor may have been convenient, Capra has not shown that there was any "practical necessity" for doing so. The evidence adduced at the hearing demonstrates that Capra knew where and how to file the financial interest statement and that there existed a central repository for the filing of such statements, i.e., the Warwick Township office. Moreover, the fact that Capra gave the statement to Edwards with the understanding that Edwards would "file it for him" indicates that the March 7th exchange was not regarded by either man as the act of filing the statement with the "governing authority of the political subdivision." *fn6
Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons, we hold that Capra failed to file the Statement of Financial Interests in a timely manner, that the trial court erred in concluding to the contrary, and reverse the decision of the court below. *fn7
JOSEPH T. DOYLE, Judge
NOW, April 22, 1997, the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County in the above-captioned matter is hereby reversed.
JOSEPH T. DOYLE, Judge