A county judge has thrown out legal objections to four candidates from the grassroots Bootstrap Campaign and has ordered their names placed on the ballot for the May 21 primary election.
Bootstrap Campaign volunteer Jacob Rosen applauded the ruling in a statement issued Monday.
“In a victory for Susquehanna County voters, the challenge to the County Commissioner candidacies of Republicans Dana Rockwell and Sue Pipitone, and Democrats Judy Herschel and Susan Rowe were dismissed, and they were ordered placed on the May 21 primary ballot,” Rosen’s statement said.
After Friday’s hearing Herschel said the Bootstrap candidates were trying to run a positive campaign. “This is the dirty part of politics that turns people off,” she said. “It’s a shame this had to happen.”
Senior Common Pleas Judge Kenneth W. Seamans held a three-hour long hearing Friday before determining in a seven page decision released Monday that the four Bootstrap candidates had properly filed required financial disclosure forms with Susquehanna County’s Deputy Chief Clerk Rachel Carrico.
There is currently no chief clerk in Susquehanna County.
During Friday’s hearing, Democratic candidate Judy Herschel testified that she handed Carrico, who as the deputy chief clerk answers directly to the commissioners, financial disclosure statements for herself and the other three candidates.
But during her testimony Carrico said she only received other paperwork which she initialed as received.
“Rachel Carrico’s testimony is that she only received completed Statement of Financial interests forms from the three sitting county commissioners seeking reelection and none from the four Respondents/Candidates or from another county commissioner candidate, Thomas Follert,” Seaman’s opinion reads.
A search of Carrico’s office and even a visit there by an attorney representing one of the two Susquehanna voters who filed the legal challenge against the four candidates failed to turn up the missing paperwork.
“We make no finding as to what happened to the completed Statement of Financial Interests forms once those forms, one for each Respondent/Candidate, were given over to the agent of the Susquehanna County Commissioners’ Office, Chief Deputy Clerk Carrico,” Seamans wrote.
The ruling insures that the names of Herschel and the three other challenged candidates – fellow Democrat Susan Rowe and Republicans Sue Pipitone and Dana Rockwell – will appear on the ballot.
Had Seamans stricken their names from the ballot his ruling would have left only the names of Montrose Borough Councilman Thomas Follert and the incumbent commissioners, all three of whom – Republicans Alan M. Hall and Elizabeth “Betsy” Arnold and Democrat MaryAnn Warren – are running for reelection.
Uncertainty over precisely which papers were or were not delivered to the county clerk’s office stemmed in part from the candidates’ unfamiliarity with the process of filing nomination papers, the location of Carrico’s office in the courthouse, or how to access it.
Herschel testified that only after inquiring at other offices in the Susquehanna County Courthouse did she learn that Carrico’s office was in a secure area of the courthouse accessible only through another office and by summonsing security personnel.
On the stand Friday morning, Hershel described visiting various offices on March 11 in an effort to file the paperwork correctly – traveling between various offices for about 45 minutes in an attempt to get the forms filed in the right office.
When the campaign group met with Carrico to file the required forms, Hershel said she asked for the receipt. She also testified that the candidates’ financial disclosure forms were turned in to the deputy clerk.
“There was so much confusion about where it went, I wanted to make sure (a receipt) was signed that (the financial interest disclosure form) was delivered,” Hershel said.
In the order, Seamans wrote: “For unknown reasons, Deputy Chief Clerk Carrico met the candidates Herschel, Pipitone and volunteer Jacob Rosen in the main lobby area of the Susquehanna County Courthouse where a security guard is located at the entrance.”
During his travels around the courthouse, Rosen, who that day accompanied Herschel and several other people who wished to witness the filing of the nomination papers, testified under oath that he encountered Commissioner Alan M. Hall, who is running for his third term.
Rosen said the group asked Hall if he knew where the papers should be filed.
“He said he didn’t know where it should be filed and that it should be returned to the candidate,” Rosen testified.
In final arguments before the judge Friday, John Hart, an attorney representing the Bootstrap candidates, described the frustrations the group experienced trying to legally place their names on the ballot.
“We have four people here who exhausted every avenue they could,” Hart said.
“It comes down to credibility, Your Honor,” Hart said.
On the issue of credibility, William T. Jones, the Scranton attorney who filed the unsuccessful petitions seeking to jettison the nomination papers, pointed out a discrepancy in the testimony of Herschel and Rosen.
“Herschel said she handed in the financial statements. Rosen said he did,” Jones told Seamans.
Two days after Herschel and Rosen’s visit to the courthouse, Christopher Glinton, the Democratic mayor of Forest City who filed the petition seeking to set aside the Bootstrap’s Democratic candidates nominations, appears in a video at the March 13 commissioners’ meeting to discuss recent developments in Forest City.
“My door is always open. If you need me in Forest City, you call me. They know where to find me,” Glinton is seen on the video telling commissioners.
Glinton’s petition challenge was filed March 18.
John Kropa, of Hop Bottom, filed the challenge to the Bootstrap Campaigns Republican candidates’ nominations.
Judge Seamans ordered candidates Herschel, Pipitone Rockwell and Rowe to file the original and a copy of the statement of financial interests form with the Susquehanna County Board of Elections within 10 days of the court order.
Susquehanna County Independent Editor Staci Wilson contributed to this report.