HARRISBURG — Gordon Marburger is still in the hunt for the Republican nomination for state House of Representatives.
Marburger, competing against incumbent Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-12th, in the May 20 primary, on Thursday learned that an appellate court denied a challenge to his nominating paperwork that would have knocked him off the ballot.
“I'm relieved,” said Marburger, 57, of Adams Township.
A school bus driver and farmer, Marburger said in the 20 days since arguments about the challenge were held at the state's Commonwealth Court, there's been a stress in not knowing for sure if his campaign efforts were for naught.
“But we never really stopped. We've been getting out there and meeting people. We kept our plan intact and we kept positive,” Marburger said. “Now that we know the decision went in our favor, we believe we can make up momentum.”
The challenge, filed March 18 by James S. Powers of Middlesex Township and Marlene Lott of Butler, alleged that Marburger should be removed from the election because he failed to file a statement of financial interest with the Ethics Board. The statement would include information such as outstanding loans, recent gifts or financial interest in companies. The deadline for candidates to file was March 11.
Attorney’s for Marburger argued that he had attached a copy of the financial statement to his nominating petition, which was filed March 7 at the Elections Bureau.
According to court records, Marburger believed that was all he needed to do because he had relied on a four-step “check list” for candidates from the Election Bureau’s Internet site. The list did not include a mandate to file the financial document with the Ethics Commission.
And when he submitted the paperwork to the Elections Bureau, Marburger asserts that employees there represented to him that his paperwork was properly submitted.
“I said, ‘Am I done?’” Marburger said. “And they said, ‘Yes.’”
Since the challenge was filed, Marburger also filed the document with the Ethics Commission.
Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia A. McCullough heard arguments in March, and on Thursday she issued a 22-page ruling in Marburger’s favor.
The ruling says Marburger should have done more research, and not relied on the checklist on the Internet.
However, Marburger’s argument got a boost from a different case in which a different Commonwealth Court judge refused to remove a GOP challenger to Gov. Tom Corbett from the primary ballot.
Although that case was a challenge to the signatures on a petition, McCullough took judicial notice of a decision in that case which found an administrative breakdown within the election process.
By telling Marburger that his petition was complete and accepting the original copy of his financial statement — which should have been sent to the Ethics Commission — Marburger was not given the opportunity to fix his error in time, the judge wrote. Had the elections bureau pointed out the error, Marburger would have had two weeks to fix it.
“Ultimately the elections bureau committed an error and this administrative breakdown deprived candidate of the opportunity to file a timely original SFI with the Ethics Commission,” the decision states. The court further notes that there were no challenges to the 800 signatures on Marburger’s petition. Rules require 300 signatures.
“I’m surprised by the ruling,” said Powers, a Metcalfe supporter since he first sought office in 1998. “There’s only two pieces of paper required. Half were missing.”
Lott referred all questions to her lawyer.
Both she and Powers are represented by Indiana, Pa., attorney Jesse Daniel, who said, “We are reviewing the decision and considering whether to take an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.”
They have 10 days to appeal to the state’s Supreme Court.
Metcalfe is anticipating an appeal. “This is a bad ruling,” he said, “because Marburger did not follow the law.”
Metcalfe alleges that Marburger filed incomplete financial statements with the Mars School District every time he ran to be a school board member, and he failed again here.
“I think in order to run for office you must reach a level of minimum competency to get on the ballot,” said Metcalfe, 51, of Cranberry Township.
Marburger said he filed financial statements with the school district, and later legally amended them to include all financial information of his wife, Diane Marburger, who is treasurer of Butler County.
“There was no foul play,” Marburger said.
The 12th District covers Adams, Clinton, Cranberry, Forward, Middlesex and Penn townships as well as Callery, Mars, Seven Fields and Valencia.