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Judge considers primary nominating petition challenge for Butler School Board incumbent

A Butler County Common Pleas Court judge didn’t immediately issue a decision Thursday in a challenge to a Butler school board member’s nominating petition for the upcoming May 16 primary.

Phil C. Heasley, a Center Township resident and a school board candidate, filed a challenge March 13 to the nominating petition that incumbent Bill Halle filed. Heasley names Halle, the Butler Area School District and the county Election Bureau as respondents in his lawsuit.

In the challenge and in court testimony, Heasley contended that Halle filed his statement of financial interests along with his petition with the bureau on March 7, the deadline for both filings, but failed to filed his financial interests statement with the school district before the deadline.

In his brief testimony, Heasley said he learned that Halle filed the statement with the district Wednesday.

District Superintendent Brian White, who was subpoenaed, testified that Halle filed his petition, but not his financial interests statement on March 7. The statement was filed Wednesday, he said.

Under cross-examination, White said Halle has filed his financial interests statements from 2011, when he began serving on the board, through last year.

Heasley’s attorney argued that failing to file the statement with the district by the deadline is a “fatal error” that cannot be corrected by the late filing.

Attorney Chris Furman, who represented the bureau, agreed, saying failing to file the statement on time is a fatal flaw under the law.

Halle’s attorney and attorney Tom May, who represented the district, argued for the challenge to be dismissed.

The challenge did not prove that failing to file the statement on time was a material defect, Halle’s attorney said. In addition, he argued that not filing the statement was an omission and a technical error, and was not intended to mislead voters. He also said the Election Code should be interpreted loosely to benefit candidates.

If failing to file the statement is a material defect, it can be and was corrected by the late filing, he said.

Attorneys for both sides cited court precedents that they said supported their arguments.

The Pennsylvania Public Official and Employee Ethics Act requires school director candidates to file a statement of financial interests for the preceding calendar year with the school district, and a copy must be attached to the nominating petition filed with the bureau of elections, according to Heasley's challenge.

Candidates are required to file financial interest statements to reveal their sources of income. One copy has to be filed with the election bureau, and another copy has to be filed with the governing authority of the office the candidate is seeking.

President Judge S. Michael Yeager said he would take the arguments under advisement. He did not indicate when he would issue a decision.

Heasley and Halle are among seven candidates running for five positions on the Butler school board.

Jennifer Cummings, Jennifer Daniels-Wells and Halle are running for reelection. They cross-filed on the Republican and Democratic Party ballots, along with challengers Terry Stivason and Heasley.

Challengers Cecilia Tomko and Tess Walko are running only for Republican Party nominations.

School board members Regenold Griffin and Mary Waggoner did not enter the primary. The four-year terms of Halle, Cummings, Daniels-Wells, Griffin and Waggoner expire at the end of this year.

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