College sophomore Nathaniel Rome’s petition to remove Ohio Gov. John Kasich from the Pennsylvania ballot may have a “fatal defect,” Kasich’s attorney said this week.
It was submitted 13 minutes too late.
At a Commonwealth Court hearing on Wednesday in Harrisburg, Pa., Kasich’s attorney Lawrence Otter argued that Rome’s petition should be dismissed because it was submitted at 5:13 p.m. The deadline for responses, he said, was 5 p.m.
This failure to file in a timely manner constitutes “a fatal defect which renders the petition a Nullity,” Otter wrote in a motion to dismiss the suit.
On Feb. 23, Rome, the chairman of Pennsylvania Students for Rubio, filed a challenge to Kasich’s position on the Pennsylvania ballot, arguing that of the 2,184 signatures the Ohio governor submitted, 802 were ineligible. Candidates need 2,000 signatures to be on the statewide ballot.
Otter agreed in a stipulation with Rome that 192 of those signatures were invalid due to “garden variety issues.” Generally, ineligible signatures come from voters that are not registered for the candidate’s party or not registered to vote at all.
While this stipulation would appear to verify the merits of Rome’s lawsuit, Otter said the Commonwealth Court should not even have the jurisdiction to review the challenge because it was filed past the deadline.
Petitions to be on the Pennsylvania ballot for the April 26 primary are due by 5 p.m. on Feb. 16. State law stipulates that anyone challenging the status of those petitions must file a response within seven days. Rome’s documents were submitted on Feb. 23 — seven days later — at 5:13 p.m.
“Full seven days takes you to 5 p.m. on Feb. 23. There’s no dispute about that,” Otter said.
Rome’s attorney John G. Bravacos said in court that Rome should have had until 11:59 p.m. to submit his documents. When reached by phone, Bravacos said he was not able to comment at the time.
Otter said Commonwealth Court Judge Bonnie Leadbetter was unaware of a precedent to such a case and given its timeliness and relevance to the ongoing primary elections, would refer the question to her fellow magistrates. The result could be either a three-judge panel to decide the case or, potentially, a referral to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
The case did not escape the attention of 1968 Wharton graduate Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. On Saturday, he tweeted about Kasich's legal case in Pennsylvania:
Wow, Kasich didn't qualify to run in the state of Pennsylvania, not enough signatures. Big problem!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2016
On Sunday, Kasich's campaign spokesman Rob Nichols called on Rubio's campaign to drop the suit. In an interview with Bloomberg Politics he said, "Senator Rubio should tell his people to drop this suit and to have his super-PAC quit attacking John Kasich in Florida."
Otter has until Monday to file an additional brief in the case while Bravacos must submit one by Wednesday. In between those dates, an important election may render the entire case moot.
Kasich’s home state of Ohio and Sen. Marco Rubio’s native Florida both hold their primaries on Tuesday, March 15. Both candidates are widely predicted to drop out of the Republican presidential campaign if they lose their home states.
Recent polling is nearly tied with Trump in Ohio, while Rubio trails the real estate mogul by double-digits in Florida.
Given the election results on Tuesday, Leadbetter may not have to make a decision at all.
“This case could potentially — by midnight on Wednesday morning — just be over,” Otter said.
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