Blackwell's career may ride on storm

Posted: March 20, 2008

The political future of state Rep. Thomas Blackwell may depend on the legal fallout from a snowstorm that struck central Pennsylvania on Lincoln's birthday, Feb. 12.

That was the deadline for candidates to file their nomination petitions with state election officials in Harrisburg. But because of the storm, Gov. Rendell extended the deadline, until noon on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14.

Hundreds of candidates filed petitions, seeking seats in the legislature, statewide offices, and at national party conventions.

Under Pennsylvania law, the deadline for people to file challenges against these petitions is seven days later, or Feb. 21. But did that mean noon on Feb. 21, or 5 p.m., the normal closing hour for the state election bureau and Commonwealth Court?

That question may now be Blackwell's last straw, as he seeks to overturn a Commonwealth Court decision that ordered him off the Democratic primary ballot for having insufficient voter signatures - only 184 valid signatures from registered voters in his district when 300 are needed - according to a decision reached Tuesday by the court's president judge, Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter.

Blackwell's lawyer, George Bochetto, said yesterday that he would appeal Leadbetter's decision to the state Supreme Court. The basis of the appeal, Bochetto said, is that Blackwell's opponent for the state House, Vanessa L. Brown, did not file her challenge against Blackwell until mid-afternoon on Feb. 21.

Leadbetter had considered this issue and ruled against Blackwell. Commonwealth Court judge, Mary Hannah Leavitt, reached the same conclusion in a ruling involving the state treasurer's race.

Leavitt cited specific language in state law requiring the election bureau and the court prothonotary's to remain open until 5 p.m.on the last day to file objections to nomination petitions.

But Bochetto noted that a third Commonwealth Court judge, Doris A. Smith-Ribner, had thrown out a petition challenge against state Rep. Harold James because the challenge was filed after noon on Feb. 21.

James's opponent, Kenyatta Johnson, has already appealed Smith-Ribner's ruling to the Supreme Court, so something's got to give.

"One of those two positions is going to be reversed by the Supreme Court," Bochetto said.

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