By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
Election petition challenges before a Primary is a pretty standard process.
A challenge is made, usually regarding the validity of petition signatures, sometimes regarding residency requirements or other issues. A hearing date is then set and the parties go to court. Usually the court handles these over a two or three day period and a lot of times rulings are made that day.
On occasion, though, a judge will ask attorneys to file briefs and then make a ruling within a day or two. That’s what happened on March 11 when Commonwealth Court Judge Patty McCullough held a hearing on a challenge to the validity of about 360 signatures on the petition of Heather Kass, the controversial candidate running to replace retiring state Rep. Harry Readshaw in the South Hills. Attorneys filed briefs by the March 13 deadline.
But, so far, nothing has happened.
“Welcome to Day 16,” attorney Chuck Pascal told the Pittsburgh Current this morning (March 26). Pascal, a Democratic Party attorney who has filed and defended scores of these challenges over the years, called the delay “unusual.”
In fact, of the 51 petition challenges across the state, the challenge against Kass’ is the only case that has not yet been ruled on. From the Pennsylvania Department of State Website:
“Even in complicated cases, it doesn’t take this long to get a ruling,” Pascal said. “And I argue that this is not a complicated case. Normally a judge will rule and, if necessary, write an opinion later.”
Pascal says rulings are typically made quickly so there is time for an appeal. And while the Primary has been pushed to June 2, that just happened recently. And unfortunately, Pascal said, there’s not much that the parties involved can do about it.
“All we can do is wait,” Pascal said. “But until there is a ruling, everyone is left in limbo.”
Voter Thomas Wagner, who lives in District 36, filed the challenge over hundreds of the signatures on Kass’ petition. Some were challenged because they were circulated by a person who is not a registered Democrat and many others were challenged for various reasons, including faulty addresses and information being added in by persons other than the signator.
This delay is yet another oddity in the race to replace Readshaw in the 36th. Last fall, progressive candidate Jessica Benham announced her challenge to Readshaw and was the only candidate until earlier this year when Readshaw announced his retirement. A short time later, Kass entered the race with endorsements from Readshaw and City Councilor Anthony Coghill. On January 20, the Pittsburgh Current first reported about social media posts from Kass over the past five years that showed support for President Donald Trump, made light of gender identity and common-sense gun control, called people on public assistance “lazy idiots” and said drug addicts should die so there would be “less shit in the world.”
Oddly enough, however, this was not the strangest part of the story. On Feb. 16, the Allegheny County Democratic Committee overwhelmingly endorsed Kass over Benham, apparently because she still had Readshaw’s backing. That led to bizarre press conferences, calls for resignations in party leadership, actual resignations from party leaders and a county party that was more fractured than it already was.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story misidentified Judge McCollough as a Common Pleas Court Judge.