New Castle News

September 26, 2012

Republicans reach agreement in court

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — A dispute regarding the reinstatement of seven members to the Lawrence County Republican Committee has been resolved.

Attorneys for the two parties involved in the nearly four-month dispute — the county committee and the seven members — reached agreement yesterday during a hearing in Lawrence County common pleas court.

Under the agreement, the seven who were removed from the committee in the spring have been reinstated as of yesterday with full rights as committee members, including being able to vote at the party’s reorganization meeting.

The meeting has been set for Nov. 15 and will be chaired by William Darr, who is former southwest caucus chairman of the Republican State Committee. Darr, a native of Indiana County, is an attorney.

Ordinarily, the party’s county chairman presides at the reorganization meeting.



THE BACKGROUND

The seven — John Altman, David Cochenour, Paul Dici, Gerald Hermann, Theo McCracken, Laura McCracken and William Messner — filed a complaint in June challenging their removal after they had been informed that complaints of wrongdoing had been filed against them by other committee members.

The court issued an injunction preventing the committee from conducting a reorganization meeting until a further order of court is issued. A meeting had been scheduled for June 4.

Senior Judge Eugene Fike issued an order in July reinstating the seven members who were elected in the April 24, 2012, primary election. The order stated that the county committee and William Schafer, its chairman, shall immediately notify the county Board of Elections that the seven have been reinstated.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs subsequently filed a petition for contempt, saying the committee and Schafer had not notified the board of elections.

Attorneys for Schafer and the committee, meanwhile, filed an appeal of Fike’s order with Commonwealth Court. Fike was asked to stay enforcement of his order while the appeal was pending.



 TERMS OF AGREEMENT

As a result of the agreement, the seven will withdraw their petition for contempt and the committee and Schafer will withdrew their appeal to Commonwealth Court.

Yesterday’s hearing was held to consider the contempt petition and application for a stay of Fike’s order.

Lawyers reached the agreement in the judge’s chambers during an afternoon recess.

The agreement also stipulates that only committee members certified by the board of elections as being elected in the primary will be eligible to vote. Plus, there will be no refiling of complaints of alleged misconduct against the seven committee members.

Attorney Jesse Daniel, counsel for Schafer and the committee, said after the hearing, “Today, the committee, the chairman and the plaintiffs in this case came together to put party first and their individual positions second and it is representative of the Republican party’s willingness to judiciously and wisely administer its affairs.”

Attorney Richard E. Flannery, who represented four of the plaintiffs, commented, “I believe it was a reasonable outcome. There were significant issues about which the plaintiffs felt strong and at the same time we have accomplished the opportunity for a reorganization meeting that will be properly held. Between now and the scheduled reorganization meeting, we will all be able to work and focus upon the upcoming election to get Republicans elected.”

In complementing the two sides, Fike said “that when reasonable people get together there can be reasonable conclusion.”

Prior to the agreement, the judge heard approximately three hours of testimony. Schafer served as a witness for much of that time.

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