new castle, pa. Council readies to fill seat pending ruling

By jeanne starmack

new castle, pa.

New Castle City Council is preparing to fill the seat convicted felon Gary Mitchell won in November, though it cannot do so until Mitchell is declared unqualified.

A case on whether to disqualify him is pending in Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas.

The council interviewed nine candidates who are interested in the seat Thursday. It will appoint one of those candidates if Mitchell is determined to be unqualified.

Pennsylvania law does not allow a convicted felon to hold a public office. It did not prevent Mitchell from running, however, and he was one of four candidates running for three open council seats in November. He and two other Democrats won, shutting out the only Republican in the race, John Altman.

Altman challenged Mitchell’s candidacy and then tried to stop the certification of the election, arguing that he, not Mitchell, should be seated because Mitchell is unqualified.

But the Lawrence County common-pleas court ruled against Altman, saying it was up to the county district attorney to file a court action against Mitchell.

District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa did so but chose to wait until after the election was certified and Mitchell was officially declared the winner. Then he filed an action called a quo warranto, arguing that Mitchell is not qualified to fill the seat.

Mitchell chose to fight the quo warranto action, and he filed an answer to Lamancusa’s complaint Wednesday.

He had filed a preliminary objection to the complaint, which was heard Jan. 13. Mitchell, who was convicted in 2002 of selling crack cocaine to an undercover officer and spent six months in a state prison, is arguing that he has asked the state board of pardons for clemency in his drug case.

He says that under the law, he is entitled to wait until the board rules on his application before the court decides if he’s qualified to be on council.

Mitchell, who says he has changed and now runs an organization called Rebuilding of Life Ministry, asserts that if the pardons board grants him clemency, he will be qualified to sit on council.

Common pleas Judge John Hodge ruled against Mitchell on Jan. 13.

The answer Mitchell filed Wednesday reiterates Mitchell’s position that under the law, his application for clemency should be considered a reason for the court to delay a decision.

In the running for Mitchell’s seat are Karen DeCarlo, who previously served on the council; Matthew Finamore; John Altman; John Donnelly; John Domenick; James Carmen; the Rev. Grace Basham; Thomas B. Smith; and Billy Malone.

Altman is a Republican, and Donnelly is an independent. The rest are Democrats.

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