After losing election, state Senate candidate can't sue those who challenged his petition

By Carrie Salls | Feb 5, 2018

HARRISBURG – A lower court’s dismissal of a civil lawsuit filed by former state Senate candidate John H. Morley Jr. against several defendants who challenged his 2016 candidacy was upheld in a Jan. 24 ruling of the Commonwealth Court.

The defendants named in Morley’s lawsuit included “attorney defendants” Lawrence M. Farnese Jr., Kevin Michael Greenberg and George J. Farrell and “objector defendants” Gaetano Piccirilli, Michael Weiss and Karen Greenberg.

“Plaintiff’s action asserted a claim for wrongful use of civil proceedings, claims under attorney fees and costs statutes and claims for abuse of process, conspiracy and concert of action,” said the Commonwealth Court opinion, which was written by Senior Judge James Gardner Colins.

Although Morley’s nomination petition to run in the 2016 primary contained 1,047 signatures, more than the required 500 signatures, and “each of the 37 pages of the nomination petition was attested to by plaintiff as circulator,” the Commonwealth Court’s opinion said the objector defendants “filed a petition to set aside plaintiff’s nomination petition, asserting that plaintiff did not have 500 valid signatures because the circulator affidavits for pages that he did not circulate were invalid and because, even if the circulator affidavits were valid, 646 individual signature lines were invalid.”

The objector defendants were represented by the attorney defendants.

The Commonwealth Court agreed in a ruling on the signature challenge that some of the signatures on Morley’s nomination petition were indeed not valid.

“Based on plaintiff’s testimony at the hearings on the petition to set aside, the court found that four pages of the nomination petition, containing 120 signatures, were not circulated by plaintiff or in his presence and that 11 signatures on a fifth page were gathered outside of plaintiff’s presence,” according to the Jan. 24 opinion.

In addition to those signatures, which were struck by the court, the “plaintiff and objector defendants agreed that 428 of the remaining signatures on the nomination petition were valid and that 355 other signatures were invalid, leaving 133 signature line challenges as to which the parties did not agree,” the opinion said.

The Commonwealth Court said the defendants cited mismatched signer addresses, signatures that were not properly completed, signature inconsistencies and signatures from voters who did not live in Morley’s district as reasons for the challenges.

Based on those challenges, the court said it threw out more signatures from Morley’s petition, bringing the total number of valid signatures to 497.

However, upon appeal, the state Supreme Court reinstated 27 signatures that had been previously stricken and put Morley back on the ballot.

Morley lost his bid for a Senate seat, but filed the civil lawsuit in question in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, alleging that the defendants “filed the petition to set aside his nomination petition at Farnese’s instigation and sought damages from all defendants on the ground that the petition to set aside was filed in bad faith and without probable cause.”

“The common pleas court…correctly concluded that plaintiff has no cause of action against defendants,” the Commonwealth Court said in its opinion.

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