UPDATE County: Incumbent DA's name should not be on ballot; opponent files to be part of lawsuit
Mar. 17—SUNBURY — Northumberland County is asking a judge to keep incumbent District Attorney Tony Matulewicz's name off the May Primary ballot and his opponent has filed to become part of the lawsuit that will determine the outcome.
District attorney candidate Mike O'Donnell filed Friday in court to join into a legal proceeding prompted by Matulewicz's Tuesday request to the court for an immediate injunction to have his name placed on the ballot. Matulewicz's election petition was filed and accepted late at the county elections office, according to county officials.
O'Donnell, in the filing, claims if the court allows Matulewicz's name to be placed on the ballot, he would be directly and immediately affected by such action.
Northumberland County Solicitor Frank Garrigan responded to Matulewicz's request for an injunction in a court filing earlier Friday.
Garrigan is asking Columbia County Senior Judge Thomas James, who will hear the case at 11 a.m. March 24 in Northumberland County Court, to deny Matulewicz's request and to issue an order saying his name should not appear on the ballot.
The document says Matulewicz filed his nominating petitions late, and the county should not have to put the two-term elected official's name on the ballot.
Matulewicz, who filed his suit through his attorney, Charles A. Pascal Jr., of Leechburg, claims to have arrived before 5 p.m. March 7, the time Chief Registrar Lindsay Phillips told him was the deadline to file petitions.
O'Donnell, commissioner candidates Slade Shreck and Vinny Clausi and state representative candidate Joe Moralez along with members of the public and media were all in the office after its normal closing time of 4:30 p.m.
When Matulewicz arrived, he wrote in the filing, "some individuals were creating a distraction and some were objecting to his petition filing."
Phillips had announced to all who were present that the office was open until 5 p.m., according to a phone call she made to Harrisburg election officials. Phillips later announced to the group that Harrisburg officials called her back and said the county office should close at its regular time, making 4:30 p.m. the deadline to file petitions in the county. Phillips said she was provided the wrong information in the first call to Harrisburg.
O'Donnell immediately challenged Phillips and said Matulewicz was late, and the petitions should not be accepted.
Phillips accepted the petitions while Matulewicz signed paperwork and another office employee notarized the documents. When Matulewicz handed in his petitions, the time stamp said 5:01 p.m., according to county records.
O'Donnell again challenged the acceptance of the petitions.
Phillips did not tell The Daily Item on March 7 that Matulewicz was not going to be on the ballot. Calls made to county officials on the night of March 7 confirmed a decision would be made during a meeting the next day.
County officials determined during the meeting that Matulewicz's name would not appear on the ballot. Phillips, in a statement, said she took the petitions as a courtesy.
According to O'Donnell's filing, through his attorney, Timothy Gates, of Harrisburg, "Should the court take this leap and direct the board to add Mr. Matulewicz to the primary ballot, despite his untimeliness, proposed intervenor (O'Donnell) would be substantially, directly, immediately affected by such a decision.
"No more would he be the sole candidate for the Republican nomination for district attorney and as a result significant time, resources and effort would be necessary to advance his chances of receiving the plurality of votes to secure the Republican Party's nomination," the filing said.
Matulewicz, through Pascal, claims he only learned March 8 that the petitions were not accepted by the county election's office through media reports.
Garrigan said the county admits it did not send him a letter, but argues that Matulewicz was informed of the filing deadline on March 7, that the office was closed when he arrived to file, and office personnel took his petitions as a courtesy, according to the filing. The county admits there were other candidates and members of the public inside the building after 4:30 p.m., which the county said was the time the office was to be closed.
Garrigan said in the filing, Matulewicz also did not pay the filing fee after he turned in his petitions.