NEW CASTLE — A losing candidate in this year’s New Castle City Council contest won’t appeal a judge’s decision against overturning election results.
John Altman, the sole Republican in the race, had challenged the election results, which gave Democrat Gary Mitchell the third and final council seat on the ballot.
Altman had asked the Lawrence County Common Pleas Court to block the certification of Mitchell’s victory, and instead award the seat to him.
Altman cited Mitchell’s felony convictions on drug charges, arguing Mitchell never should have been on the ballot and state law prohibits him from holding an elected position.
But on Nov. 21, Judge John Hodge ruled against Altman, declaring he lacked standing in the case. Hodge said the Lawrence County district attorney and the Pennsylvania attorney general are the authorities assigned the task of blocking Mitchell from taking the council seat, and citizens cannot act in the matter until these officials refuse to do so. Altman was unable to document that the two offices had passed on taking action in Mitchell’s case.
In a letter to the New Castle News, Altman’s attorney, Angelo A. Papa, said his client would not appeal Hodge’s ruling or pursue the case further.
Instead, Papa wrote, “Mr. Altman must respectfully leave this issue for the applicable authorities to work out.”
However, Papa added that while the legal efforts on Altman’s behalf were unsuccessful, they served a purpose in terms of pointing out flaws in the state election code, where individuals with felony records can run — and win — public office, but then may be blocked from serving.
Mitchell has told The News he is pursuing various options in an effort to have his criminal record expunged. But if that does not happen, and he is prevented from taking his seat, the remaining members of council will have the responsibility of selecting someone to take his place.
In his letter, Papa cited this situation, arguing Mitchell’s presence on the ballot effectively prevented Altman from winning the race and giving council, rather than the voters, the power to pick who would serve.
“We find no fault with anyone, including Mr. Mitchell, who we believe may not appreciate the depth of the problem he has caused,” Papa added.
No official action has taken place to stop Mitchell from taking office.