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Court rejects suit challenging Jubelirer's role

Sunday, December 30, 2001

By Martha Raffaele, The Associated Press

HARRISBURG-- A state court has dismissed a lawsuit alleging that Lt. Gov. Robert Jubelirer violated the state constitution by serving as an executive while retaining his Senate seat.

Commonwealth Court President Judge Joseph T. Doyle, writing for the majority, rejected arguments by state Rep. John Lawless and two other plaintiffs that Jubelirer's dual roles ran afoul of provisions calling for a separation of powers among the three branches of state government.

Jubelirer, a Republican, represents the Altoona area in the state Senate and has served for more than 15 years as Senate president pro tempore, the most powerful partisan post in the chamber. He also became lieutenant governor when former Lt. Gov. Mark Schweiker became governor Oct. 5, succeeding Tom Ridge, who resigned to direct the new national Office of Homeland Security.

The constitution specifically says a Senate president pro tempore should resign the post upon becoming governor, but does not say what should happen if he should become lieutenant governor. In his opinion, Doyle said nothing in the document "states, suggests, implies or even hints at the notion" that Jubelirer should vacate his Senate seat."

Lawless, a Montgomery County lawmaker who switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat in November, declined to comment, saying he had not seen a copy of the ruling.

Jubelirer said he felt "very vindicated" by the 6-1 decision that was handed down Friday.

The lieutenant governor presides over the Senate, a job that carries the power to cast a tie-breaking vote.

Jubelirer has pledged not to cast a tie-breaking vote because that would give him two votes in the Senate. Ties are rare in the Senate, where Republicans hold a nine-seat advantage.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Doris A. Smith wrote:

"The Majority does not fully appreciate the consequences of its decision and the potential harm that it may cause to the established constitutional form of government in this Commonwealth."

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