Zappala defers to attorney general to fight for ballot question

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3 weeks ago

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. is withdrawing his office's motion to intervene in an ongoing lawsuit targeting a ballot question on victims’ rights scheduled for next month's general election.

In a statement issued Thursday, spokesman Mike Manko said attorneys for the DA's office spoke with lawyers from the Pennsylvania attorney general's office, which will represent the acting secretary of state in supporting the amendment called Marsy's Law.

“We have also reviewed their response to the lawsuit and we agree with their position and are confident that the articulation of that strong position in upcoming hearings will be successful,” Mr. Manko said.

The constitutional amendment would provide additional rights to crime victims, including notifications for plea, sentencing and parole hearings.

To get on the ballot, the amendment had to be approved by the Legislature in two successive sessions.

Last week, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the ballot question, alleging that the language is too broad and encompasses too many issues. They argue that each item of the amendment must be voted on separately.

The day after that suit was filed, Mr. Zappala, who supports Marsy's Law, filed a motion to intervene.

He said that the groups filing the complaint were politicizing the rights of crime victims, and that it was too late in the process to try to remove the ballot question.

In the acting secretary of state's response to the complaint, the attorney general's office argued that the amendment does not need to be separated into different questions because all of it revolves around a single subject matter — "securing victims' rights in the criminal cases in which they suffered direct harm.

"Every single subpart of the amendment advances this one goal."

Also in the response, the AG's office notes that more than 9,500 absentee ballots that include the question have already been returned, and the complaint against the amendment came three months after the ballot question was initially advertised.

Commonwealth Court has scheduled argument on the requested injunction to stop the ballot question for Oct. 23 in Harrisburg.


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