HARRISBURG -- A state appellate court judge will determine whether former Democratic state Rep. Bill DeWeese can remain on the November general election ballot, following arguments this morning seeking to remove his name.
The state Democratic Party, along with three registered voters from Mr. DeWeese's former district, filed the legal challenge aiming to replace the incarcerated former lawmaker with another Democrat in time for the fall balloting.
Mr. DeWeese, who represented Greene County and portions of neighboring Fayette and Washington counties for more than three decades, was found guilty in January on five felony counts related to directing his legislative staff to perform political activities during taxpayer-funded work hours.
He was sentenced on April 24 -- also the date of the primary election, when he unopposed for the Democratic nomination in his district -- and is serving his two-and-a-half to five-year prison sentence in Luzerne County.
Pittsburgh attorney Cliff Levine, who is representing the state party and voters challenging Mr. DeWeese's eligibility, argued this morning before Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley that the veteran lawmaker's conviction became final at sentencing, erasing questions about his ability to serve. Being a convicted felon and incarcerated at Retreat state prison prevent him from taking office in January if re-elected, he said.
Mr. Levine said the situation already has left his constituents without a representative, and it also would prevent them from having a choice in the general election if one of the candidates could not take the position if elected.
An attorney for Mr. DeWeese responded that the state party is only allowed to replace a candidate under two specific circumstances: if a candidate dies, or if a candidate withdraws.
"I can assure you that Mr. DeWeese is very much alive," said Courtney Powell, adding that her client also has no intention of withdrawing his name.
She reiterated Mr. DeWeese's previous arguments that he's seeking a speedy appellate review in an effort to clear his name in time to return to office for the new legislative session.
Candidates on the general election ballot have until Monday to request that their names be removed, and substitutions by the state Democrats or Republicans could be requested until Aug. 23.
The challenge to Mr. DeWeese's eligibility follows an attempt earlier this year to remove his name from the primary ballot. A Commonwealth Court judge ruled that despite the guilty verdict against him, the conviction was not yet final and he could remain on the ballot.
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Harrisburg Bureau Chief Laura Olson: email@example.com or 717-787-4254.