Felony conviction may hinder man’s write-in bid for district judge post

mcarroll@centredaily.comOctober 31, 2013 

McKown

A State College man says he is waging a write-in campaign for a district judge seat, but his criminal record might disqualify him from the position even if he were to be elected, according to state officials.

Hobson McKown, 28, who has told the Centre Daily Times he is seeking the position, was convicted on a felony weapons charge for bringing a loaded gun into a local district judge’s office in 2008 after his concealed carry permit had been revoked here.

He claims he was carrying the weapon for self-defense and never displayed it in then-District Judge Jonathan D. Grine’s office. McKown, who lost a recent appeal in the case, did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Ron Ruman, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of State, said a clause in the Pennsylvania constitution bars people who have committed certain crimes from holding elected office.

“No person hereafter convicted of embezzlement of public moneys, bribery, perjury or other infamous crime, shall be eligible to the General Assembly, or capable of holding any office of trust or profit in this Commonwealth,” the clause reads.

“Unfortunately, it doesn’t define ‘infamous crimes,’ ” Ruman said. “It’s really up to the court.”

The clause may not offer a definition, but the state Supreme Court has held that felony convictions qualify, Ruman said.

But it takes a challenge to remove a convicted felon who has been elected.

“That’s where it gets tricky,” Ruman said. “Typically, courts have held infamous crimes to be felonies, but there are times when a felony is not.”

He cited the case of a York city councilman convicted on felony drug charges in the early ‘90s and elected in 2012. A York County judge ruled the man could serve, despite his prior conviction.

“If it’s challenged, it goes with what the court says,” Ruman said.

The situation appears to pop up so infrequently in Centre County that elections officials here initially said were unsure of the guidelines.

When contacted later, county elections director Joyce McKinley said she could not recall a convicted felon winning election in Centre County.

McKown says he is seeking the seat held by District Judge Leslie Dutchcot. The only name that will appear on Tuesday’s ballot is Dutchcot’s, who is seeking re-election following her first term in office.

Dutchcot declined to comment Thursday.

In a recent appeal, McKown asked the case be dismissed because he had a concealed carry permit issued from New Hampshire at the time, arguing that should cover him in Pennsylvania.

The state Superior Court rejected his argument and said Pennsylvania residents must obtain permits here to satisfy state laws.

McKown’s last known attorney, Jason Dunkle, could not be reached for comment Thursday. It is unclear whether McKown intends to further appeal his conviction.

Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter.

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