Hearing on Central Bucks voting region change halted as Bucks County judges all recuse themselves
Candidates for the Central Bucks School board will run for election this year according to current voting boundaries after the entire Bucks County Court recused itself from hearing a challenge to a proposal to change voting regions.
A large group of Central Bucks School District residents have appealed to Bucks County Court to decide how to redraw the boundaries among the regions, but there is now no judge available to hear the case immediately.
Redistricting hearing this week is canceled
The court had scheduled a hearing for Thursday, but that has been canceled.
Judge Jeffrey G. Trauger issued an order Tuesday that stated, "Due to the full bench recusal of this court and the pendency of the appointment of an out of county senior judge the scheduling of any hearings on these matters is continued generally. Upon the appointment of a judge all counsel shall be notified with ample time for necessary publication of the new hearing date."
Now the case needs to be decided by a judge from another county.
Court administrator Stephen Heckman said Trauger and President Judge Wallace Bateman found that a "a full bench recusal was determined to exist due to the employment of Bucks County Common Pleas Judge (Stephen) Corr’s wife with the Central Bucks School District as Director of Human Resources."
Heckman said he was directed to contact the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC) to request the assignment of an out-of-county senior judge to preside over this matter in order to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.
"This request only happens in those rare cases when the Court believes there is a conflict of interest which could affect every member of the Court. AOPC is now in the process of contacting senior judges in other counties to determine who is available to be able hear this matter and when. Sometimes this can be a lengthy process ... The Court is well aware of the sensitivity of this matter and the need to find a judge as soon as possible."
Nominating petitions need to be filed
School District Solicitor Jeffrey Garton said the hearing won't be held in time for the start of nominating petitions being filed with the Board of Elections.
Persons interested in running for municipal or school board seats can begin circulating the nominating petitions on Tuesday. They must have the petitions to the Bucks County Board of Elections by March 7.
"The effect is that the current school director regions will remain in place for this year’s elections. It couldn’t be resolved 'out of court' because the court needs to approve any plan after a public hearing," he said. The need to stick with the current boundaries "happened because the regions cannot now be changed because people can begin to circulate nominating petitions next week to run for office. The regions cannot change after that date."
Asked if Garton was correct that the regions would not change for this year's election, county spokesman James O'Malley, said, "This process is handled in the courts. The Board of Elections at this time has not received a court order regarding any changes to Central Bucks School District regions."
More:Central Bucks voters protest plan for redistricting voting regions for school board
Census led to need to redistrict Central Bucks board seats
The school district needs to redraw its boundaries because of population shifts found through the 2020 Census.
According to the 14th Amendment and the Pennsylvania Public School Code, each district should represent about the same number of people so that each resident's vote for a school board candidate counts equally. But the district's plan to redraw the boundaries would have prevented some voters who were switched to another region from being able to cast a ballot this year.
More than 3,670 Central Bucks residents signed petitions opposing the school district administration's redrawn map of the nine regions.
Some said it amounted to gerrymandering and would give Republicans a 7:2 advantage in elections for the next decade. The petitions were presented to the court Jan. 27 by attorneys representing a resident group called "CBSD Fair Votes."
They felt that it was unfair to voters who were moved into a region where the school board seat wasn't up for election. Instead, they want the regions divided into three groupings, with each region having three candidates, and all the voters in that region could vote for however many candidates were up for election in that region this year.
Theresa Golding, an attorney representing the "Fair Votes" residents, said the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts will now have to decide whether to have a judge from another county hear the suit in Bucks or have the hearing in another county. She said that according to the Pennsylvania Public School Code, a court approves the redistricting of school board seats and that takes place, historically, after a court hearing is held.
This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Central Bucks voting region changes delayed as Bucks Court recuses itself