Lawrence judge hears arguments in case challenging felon’s holding council seat

By jeanne starmack

new castle, pa.

A judge heard arguments for and against dismissing the Lawrence County district attorney’s case against a convicted felon sitting on city council.

Gary Mitchell, who was convicted in 2002 of selling crack cocaine to undercover agents, went on to serve 16 months in state prison.

He says he’s changed, now heading an organization called Rebuilding of Life Ministry.

Nonetheless, state law does not allow a convicted felon to serve in a public office.

Mitchell was allowed to run for one of three available seats on council because the law does not prevent a felon’s candidacy.

But once he won one of those seats in the November election, county District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa filed a complaint asking the common-pleas court to stop him from taking the office.

Lamancusa won an emergency order Dec. 30 stopping Mitchell from being sworn in Jan. 2.

Mitchell filed a preliminary objection to Lamancusa’s complaint, asking the court to dismiss it because of a section of state law that cites “pendency of a prior action.”

Mitchell is trying to say his application for clemency in his drug case constitutes a prior action and the court should wait until the state board of pardons decides whether to grant him that clemency.

Lamancusa argued the application does not count as a pending action under the law. He said “pending action” refers to court filings.

Common Pleas President Judge John Hodge said he will issue a decision from his chambers.

If Judge Hodge rules for Mitchell, the issue would be stayed until after the board of pardons rules on his application, Lamancusa said. If the judge rules for Lamancusa, Mitchell has 20 days to file an answer to Lamancusa’s complaint.

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