The legal door has slammed on former Pennsylvania House Speaker Bill DeWeese's quest to run for re-election from his cell in state prison.
On Friday, Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley ruled DeWeese ineligible to run for re-election to his old district, centered in Greene County because he is serving a 21/2- to five-year prison sentence for public corruption convictions. The state Democratic Party, which brought the petition to strike its former party stalwart from the ballot, now is free to replace him with another candidate before the November election.
"DeWeese's criminal conduct and conviction have rendered him ineligible to hold public office," Judge McGinley wrote. "Also, DeWeese's prison sentence will span the entire term of the elected position and, if in fact he won the general election in November 2012, his felony convictions would bar him from holding office."
DeWeese, 62, was convicted in January on five felony counts -- including conspiracy, conflict of interest and theft -- related to directing his legislative staff to perform campaign activities during taxpayer-funded work hours. He was sentenced April 24, the date he ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination, and is serving his sentence at State Correctional Institution Retreat in Luzerne County.
His attorneys, Courtney Powell and John Joseph Connelly Jr., and the attorney representing the state Democratic Party, Clifford Levine, could not be reached for comment.
The Democrats' challenge to DeWeese, who represented his district for more than 30 years, follows their attempt earlier this year to have his name removed from the primary ballot. A Commonwealth Court judge ruled then that his conviction was not yet final, and he could remain on the ballot despite the guilty verdict.
Now that the conviction is final and DeWeese's name will not appear on the ballot, Democrats have until Aug. 23 to request a substitution.
Mark Fischer of Waynesburg is the Republican candidate for the seat, which includes Greene County and portions of neighboring Fayette and Washington counties.electionspa - state
Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: 412-263-1719 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Associated Press contributed.