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
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 ...