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Hollidaysburg councilman defends signatures in court

Saleme, Latker challenge validity of Burke’s petition

HOLLIDAYSBURG — A Clearfield County judge is being asked to decide if a Hollidaysburg councilman has enough valid signatures to get his name on the ballot in the May primary.

A candidate petition presented by Republican Sean P. Burke, who is running for re-election to represent the borough’s fourth ward, has been challenged by fourth ward residents Kirk Saleme, who also is running for the fourth ward seat, and Richard Latker.

In a petition filed March 15 with Blair County Court, Latker and Saleme questioned four of 11 voters who signed Burke’s petition. To get his name on the ballot, Burke needs to have 10 valid signatures.

During a court hearing Friday before Judge Paul E. Cherry, attorney Joel C. Seelye acknowledged on Burke’s behalf that Anne Caporuscio’s signature should be stricken because of her party affiliation.

While the challenge revealed that the county mistakenly inactivated, then reactivated Caporuscio’s voter registration, Seelye consented that as a Democrat, Caporuscio was ineligible to sign the Republican candidate’s petition.

Latker, who represented himself and Saleme in Friday’s court hearing, also questioned the validity of Dianne Stultz’s name on Burke’s petition, pointing out that she wrote in her name in the space reserved for the signing date.

Seelye acknowledged the flaw and proposed addressing it with submission of an amended petition that adds the date. He argued that because voters signing above and below Stultz filled in March 1, 2021, as their signing dates, it was reasonable to conclude that she signed on that date too.

Stultz also testified at Friday’s hearing, stating that she signed Burke’s petition on March 1, 2021, the same date as her husband, John.

Latker told the judge that higher Pennsylvania courts have stricken signatures from candidate petitions when submitted without a complete date. He also disagreed with Seelye’s suggested remedy of allowing Burke to amend his petition.

“If you can do that, then what’s the sense of being able to challenge a petition,” Latker said. State election laws designate a specific time frame as for when candidate petitions can be challenged.

Seelye’s response to Latker’s stance referenced a court ruling in which six signatures on a nomination petition, where voters filled in a zip code instead of a date, survived a legal challenge.

A significant portion of Friday’s three-hour hearing included testimony from two handwriting experts who reviewed voter signature information on Burke’s petition.

In their petition, Saleme and Latker pointed to similarities in handwriting that listed residential street names for signers Barbara Huff and John P. Stultz.

Only the signing voter is allowed to sign a candidate’s petition and fill in his or her address and signing date.

Handwriting analyst Michelle Dresbold of Pittsburgh said she examined the handwriting on Burke’s petition. She acknowledged that the Walnut Street addresses for Huff and John P. Stultz are written in similar handwriting and that Walnut has a triangular style A.

But that’s not enough, she said, for her to reach a conclusion that the same person wrote those addresses.

Seelye called upon Khody Detwiler, a forensic document examiner, who said his examination led him to “a strong probability” that the Walnut Street addresses were written by two different people. When Latker asked about the A in Walnut, Detwiler said he wouldn’t consider that unique to one writer because “a lot of people might do it that way.”

Detwiler said his analysis is based on differences, not similarities.

Cherry convened Friday’s hearing in Clearfield County with Latker and Seelye in his courtroom.

Witnesses and other interested parties were directed to access the hearing through videoconferencing marred by occasional sound and video issues. It was also acknowledged during the hearing that Blair County’s five judges declined to hear the case since Burke is the husband of county commissioner Laura Burke.

After testimony concluded, Cherry directed Seelye and Latker to provide summary arguments or a legal brief by Monday afternoon.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.

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