Penn State

Judge orders hearing on Penn State ag trustee challenge

Jess Stairs will have his day in court.

The Penn State agricultural association trustee candidate – who claims he was defeated by an improper vote in Venango County that led to trustee Betsy Huber being one of the two winning candidates in 2014 by a margin of just one vote — won a chance to plead his case in front of a Centre County judge.

Judge Pamela Ruest ordered a March 4 hearing on Stairs’ suit against the board of trustees, Huber and board President Keith Masser.

Masser was the other candidate who won a seat in the May 2014 election. However, defense counsel Kenneth Argentieri argued in documents filed Dec. 23 that any action against the president is misplaced. Masser won first place in the three-way finish, with 124 votes to Huber’s 89 and Stairs’ 88.

“Even assuming (p)laintiff’s allegations are true, the validity of the three Venango County votes has no effect on Mr. Masser’s election,” Argentieri wrote. A three-vote difference may have changed Huber’s tally, but not Masser’s, and thus the defense argues there is no cause for Stairs’ requested remedy: the removal of the two trustees and a new election.

The defense also took issue with the time it took Stairs to file his claim — almost seven months after the election. Stairs initially filed a writ of summons in Centre County court in July 2014. His documents state that he attempted to handle the matter internally before taking the case to court.

Another point of contention for the defense was Stairs’ position as the wronged party. According to his narrative of events, the Venango County election went wrong when delegates from the Grange seized all the ballots and voted for their chosen candidates rather than caucusing with the three delegates from the Farm Bureau to decide which delegates would be voting.

If Stairs’ story is true, the defense argued, he is not the wronged party. Instead, the injustice was to the Farm Bureau, which was denied its right to vote. That would leave Stairs without standing for his suit.

Stairs has until Jan. 23 to file his briefs in the case. The defense was directed to respond by Feb. 17.