Despite conviction, DeWeese will appear on primary ballot

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HARRISBURG -- Democratic voters of the state's 50th House District will get another chance to pull the lever for recently convicted Democratic state Rep. Bill DeWeese.

A Commonwealth Court judge ruled Wednesday that the one-time House speaker's jury conviction does not yet bar him from having his name on the primary ballot.

Mr. DeWeese's attorney, John Connelly, argued that the Greene County legislator's conviction of theft, conspiracy and conflict of interest does not become final -- making him ineligible to serve in the Legislature -- until he is sentenced.

"It's technical, but he is eligible," Mr. Connelly said.

Mr. DeWeese was found guilty of five felony counts on Feb. 6 but will not be sentenced until April 24, which is also the primary election. Once he is sentenced, he will be required to resign from his House seat.

He and his attorney have argued that his sentencing date could change in the coming weeks, and that the appeals system potentially could reverse the jurors' decision in time for him to be sworn in next session.

Senior Judge Keith Quigley also said there were merits to the challenge, which noted that Mr. DeWeese will be sentenced as voters are casting their primary ballots.

Travis Barkley, a Greensboro veteran and former Republican county commissioner candidate who filed the challenge, said allowing Mr. DeWeese as a candidate goes against the aim of holding elections if he won't be able to serve.

"The point of an election is to get an elected official," Mr. Barkley told the judge. "Felons are ineligible."

Judge Quigley acknowledged the confusion in differentiating between the jury's guilty verdict and the finality of sentencing, telling Mr. Barkley, "I don't personally disagree with most of what you said."

Mr. Barkley also has a petition pending with the state Supreme Court seeking to remove Mr. DeWeese's name from the ballot.

A similar challenge decided on Wednesday involving Michael Cavanagh, a Republican seeking to run for the 51st District, had a different outcome for the candidate.

Mr. Cavanagh's 2001 conviction and sentencing for attempted insurance fraud led a Pittsburgh judge to toss his name from the ballot. In an interview, Mr. Cavanagh contested that decision, arguing that it is unfair to allow Mr. DeWeese's name, but not his, to remain.

Laura Olson: or 717-787-4254. First Published March 1, 2012 5:00 AM


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