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In re Nomination Petition of Ford

April 12, 2010

IN RE: THE NOMINATION PETITION OF SHEILA DOW FORD FOR THE OFFICE OF REPRESENTATIVE IN THE U.S. CONGRESS OF DISTRICT NUMBER 17
OBJECTION OF: YESENIA A. ROSADO



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Senior Judge Kelley

ORDER

AND NOW, this 3rd day of May, 2010, it is ordered that the Opinion filed on April 12, 2010, shall be designated OPINION rather than MEMORANDUM OPINION, and that it shall be reported.

Heard: April 7, 2010

BEFORE: HONORABLE JAMES R. KELLEY, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Presently before the Court is the Petition to Set Aside the Nomination Petition of Sheila Dow Ford (Candidate) as a Democratic Candidate for the Office of Representative in the United States Congress from the 17th Pennsylvania Congressional District in the General Primary Election to be held on May 18, 2010. The Petition to Set Aside the Nomination Petition was filed in this Court on March 16, 2010 by Yesenia A. Rosado (Objector).

Under Section 912.1(12) of the Pennsylvania Election Code (Election Code),*fn1 a candidate for the Office of Representative in the United States Congress must present at least 1000 valid signatures of registered and enrolled electors of the political party of the candidate. Objector seeks to invalidate a number of the 1,638 signatures contained in the Candidate's Nomination Petition.

On March 19, 2010, this Court entered a Scheduling and Case Management Order scheduling a hearing on the Petition to Set Aside for April 7, 2010, at 10:00 a.m., EDST, and imposing certain duties and obligations upon Objector and Candidate. Therein: (1) Objector was ordered to secure the services of a court stenographer for the hearing and to personally serve Candidate or an adult member of Candidate's family on or before 5:00 p.m. on March 29, 2010, and to promptly file proof of service with the Chief Clerk; (2) Objector and Candidate were ordered to identify all witnesses intended to testify at the hearing; (3) Objector was ordered to immediately arrange to meet with Candidate or her representative to review before the hearing each and every challenged signature; (4) Objector and Candidate were ordered to file by 12:00 Noon on Monday, April 5, 2010, a Stipulation of the Parties identifying the total number of signatures submitted, the total number of uncontested signatures, the total number of signatures challenged, each and every signature challenged by page number and line number, and each and every signature to be stricken off as invalid or for which an objection is to be withdrawn; and (5) Objector and Candidate were permitted to file by 12:00 Noon on Monday, April 5, 2010, a memorandum of law in support of their respective positions. Objector was also ordered to serve personally or by registered mail a copy of the Scheduling and Case Management Order on the Secretary of the Commonwealth, and to offer proof at the hearing of timely service of the Petition to Set Aside on the Secretary of the Commonwealth.*fn2

Counsel for Candidate entered an appearance with this Court on March 29, 2010. On April 1, 2010, this Court entered an order scheduling a pre-trial conference at 9:30 a.m. on April 7, 2010, before the scheduled hearing in this matter.

On April 5, 2010, Objector filed the following documents: (1) Stipulation of Objector; (2) Objector's Witness List; (3) Objector's Memorandum of Law RE: Affidavit of Circulator and Prothonotary's "Acknowledgement"; and (4) Amended Certificate of Service indicating that the foregoing documents were served on Candidate. In the "Stipulation of Objector", Objector withdrew challenges to 66 signature lines.

Candidate filed the following documents on April 5, 2010 and April 6, 2010: (1) Stipulations; (2) Sheila Dow Ford's Witness List; (3) Sheila Dow Ford's Motion to Amend Nomination Petitions and Memorandum of Law in Response to Yesenia Rosado's Petition to Set Aside Nomination Petition of Sheila Dow Ford; and (4) Sheila Dow Ford's Supplemental Response to Yesenia Rosado's Petition to Set Aside Nomination Petition of Sheila Dow Ford Motion to Amend Nomination Petition of Sheila Dow Ford; and (5) Certificate of Service indicating that the foregoing documents were served on Objector.

Upon review of the foregoing documents, the Court notes that the parties did not file a "Stipulation of the Parties" as directed by the March 19, 2010 Scheduling and Case Management Order.*fn3 Further review of the documents filed in this matter reveal that the only item that Objector and Candidate agreed upon prior to the April 7, 2010 hearing was that Candidate's Nomination Petition contains 1,638 signature lines.

The pre-trial conference in this matter convened at 9:30 a.m. on April 7, 2010. During the pre-trial conference, the parties stipulated as follows:

1. Candidate's Nomination Petition contains 1,638 signatures.

2. Objector is challenging 538 signature lines on the basis that the circulator affidavits are invalid because the affidavits were not properly acknowledged or notarized.

3. Objector withdrew her challenges to 111 signature lines on the basis that the circulators were not the actual circulators of pages 1, 30, 48, 49, 50, and 54 of Candidate's Nomination Petition.

4. Objector is challenging 3 signature lines on page 38 of the Nomination Petition.

Thereafter, the hearing on Objector's Petition to Set Aside commenced. At the beginning of the hearing, the parties stipulated as follows:

1. There are 1,031 uncontested signatures on a line by line basis on Candidate's Nomination Petition.

2. In paragraph 10 of the Petition to Set Aside, Objector challenged page 38 of Candidate's Nomination Petition. Candidate conceded that the circulator, Martha Robinson, of page 38 of Candidate's Nomination Petition is not a registered voter. Therefore, the 5 signature lines of page 38 are invalid and will be stricken.

3. Paragraphs 11 and 12 of the Petition to Set Aside challenging 111 signature lines on the basis that the circulators were not the actual circulators of pages 1, 30, 48, 49, 50, and 54 of Candidate's Nomination Petition are withdrawn. [This is the same stipulation that was agreed to at the pre-trial conference -- see #3 above.]

4. Paragraph 36 of the Petition to Set Aside challenging one signature line on page 31, line 1 of Candidate's Nomination Petition on the basis that the address of the signer does not match the address on the signer's voter registration card is withdrawn.

5. Paragraphs 37 through 40 the Petition to Set Aside challenging 36 signature lines on the basis that the circulator of pages 31 and 44 of the Candidate's Nomination Petition was not validly registered or a qualified elector are withdrawn.

6. Paragraph 13 of the Petition to Set Aside stating that Stephen E. Farina is the Prothonotary of Dauphin County is accepted as fact by Objector and Candidate.

7. Objector and Candidate accept as fact, with respect to pages 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 43, 47, 48, 49, 50, 52, 54, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, and 62, as set forth in paragraph 14 of the Petition to Set Aside, that:

a. The circulator's affidavit on the left hand column on side 2 of each of the aforementioned petition pages where Stephen E. Farina's name appears in his official capacity as the Prothonotary as the person swearing and subscribing that each circulator completed and signed the circulator's affidavit, that Stephen E. Farina did not place any of the information on side 2 of the aforementioned petition pages, that Stephen E. Farina did not witness the circulator complete any information on the right hand column of side 2 of the aforementioned petition pages, and that Stephen Farina has no familiarity or first hand knowledge of the information contained in the circulator's box on side 2 of the aforementioned petition pages.

b. The seal of the Office of Prothonotary of Dauphin County is embossed on side 2 of each of the aforementioned petition pages.

c. A Deputy Prothonotary of Dauphin County completed the information on the left hand column of the circulator's affidavit located on side 2 of each of the aforementioned petition pages.

d. One of several Deputy Prothontaries of Dauphin County personally witnessed the circulator of each of the aforementioned petition pages sign the circulator's affidavit, asked for identification or personally knew who the circulator was, and asked the circulator to swear and affirm the circulator's affidavit.

e. A Deputy Prothonotary of Dauphin County affixed the seal of the Office of Prothonotary of Dauphin County on side 2 of each of the aforementioned petition pages.

f. Each Deputy Prothonotary that witnessed the circulator sign the circulator's affidavit on each of the aforementioned petition pages took an oath after Stephen E. Farina was sworn in as Prothonotary of Dauphin County to enable each Deputy Prothonotary to sign or acknowledge documents on Stephen E. Farina's behalf.

e. The names of the Deputy Prothonotaries of Dauphin County who added the information on the left hand column of the circulator's affidavits on behalf of Stephen E. Farina on side 2 of the aforementioned petition pages are:

1. Aleshia Redmond

2. April Welcomer

3. Autumn Hock

4. Leeann Bechtel

5. Stephanie ...


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