Editor's note: This story has been updated to include Susan Pickford's independent candidacy for common pleas judge.
The announcement by Kirk Sohonage that he will withdraw from the county’s court of the common pleas judges’ race has thrown a wrench into the 2019 election.
Citing unforeseen family and financial obligations, Sohonage, a Republican, issued a news release Monday saying he would petition to remove his name from the ballot for a judgeship in the Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas.
Bethany Salzarulo, director of the county’s bureau of elections, said the county received a copy of an “emergency petition for leave of court to withdraw name from ballot,” which Sohonage said he filed with Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Monday.
“I’ve never seen this before,” Salzarulo said. “If the judge agrees to take his name off, I’m not sure what the next steps will be.”
Military absentee ballots with Sohonage’s name on them have already gone out, Salzarulo said, and civilian absentee ballots were planned to begin mailing in the first week of October, although that may have to be delayed pending the resolution of Sohonage’s petition, she said.
The normal deadline to remove a name for the Nov. 5 election was Aug. 12, and the deadline for parties to substitute a nominee was Sept. 16.
In a phone call Monday afternoon, Sohonage said the court could allow for the county GOP to select a new nominee prior to the election.
“I certainly don’t think there’s any hamstringing of the party,” Sohonage said. “As long as [the court] permits my withdrawal, I don’t find that there’s a problem for the county committee to get together and vote and make a selection.”
Sohonage said that, in prior cases, counties have asked courts to order candidates to pay for the re-issuing of ballots if the court allows for a withdrawal or a change of nominee.
“If there’s a cost that has to be expended, I’m more than willing to pay those costs,” Sohonage said.
The abrupt decision to withdraw from the race is tied to family financial matters, Sohonage said, particularly with regard to the estate of his late mother. Sohonage, an attorney, said those issues would be harder to address if he were to become a judge, putting a serious burden on his family.
“Once I’m elected judge, I can’t practice law anymore, and there are issues I need to resolve,” Sohonage said, citing a matter that came up in the last week, which spurred his decision to drop out of the race.
“I certainly wouldn’t have jumped in if I knew these things were out there,” Sohonage said, thanking everyone who had supported his candidacy.
Sohonage was one of four candidates for two county court of common pleas judgeships, winning a GOP nomination with 22.7 percent of the vote in a five-way race, coming just behind candidate Matt Smith.
Smith also won a Democratic nomination, along with candidate Lisa Grayson. Susan Pickford is also running as an independent candidate. She announced her candidacy in a news release on Sept. 14.
Sohonage had also significantly out-spent the other candidates, at least through the last election reporting period, which ended June 10. By that date, Sohonage’s campaign committee reported expenditures of $64,910.75.
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