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Federal judge says she did not sign Congressional candidate's petition

On the top section of the image is how U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon signed the documents she filed as part of her U.S. Senate confirmation process. The bottom is a signature that she said is not hers, which was on an election petition filed last week by Congressional candidate Steve Irwin.

A federal judge says that while her name appears on election petitions filed last week by Congressional candidate Steve Irwin, the signature is not hers.

“I did not sign this petition,” U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon told WESA on Thursday night.

“I have no comment other than it is obviously an unfortunate scenario that he perhaps finds himself in,” she added. “I have no idea how it happened.”

The address information on the petition is correct, Bissoon said, but federal judicial ethics rules frown on judges engaging in political activity. “That’s another reason the signature is not mine,” said Bissoon, who was appointed to the federal bench in Western Pennsylvania by former President Barack Obama.

The petition was one of 64 filed by the Irwin campaign in an initial batch last week. Three other voters whose signatures appear on the same Irwin petition and two others also told WESA-FM on Friday they did not sign it or did not recall doing so. In all three cases, the signatures appear in an unusual last-name-first format, and they bear little similarity to the signatures of the voters on file. All three petitions were circulated by the same person.

"We were made aware that questions have been raised about the validity of certain signatures submitted with our petitions," the Irwin campaign said in a statement. "The signatures in question were all gathered by the same circulator, and we are currently reviewing all petitions submitted by this circulator. This is extremely disappointing, and we will take all appropriate action to resolve this issue."

Irwin is one of five Democrats running in the 12th Congressional District to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle.

Chuck Pascal, a lawyer working with the campaign of one of those candidates, Summer Lee, said the campaign had been reviewing the Irwin camp’s signatures — a standard practice for political campaigns — and that he was aware of the concerns around Bissoon’s signature.

“Having a federal judge on there, that’s a new one on me,” he said. “And I’ve been doing this a long time.”

“We continue to investigate to see how many valid signatures there are,” he said. “It’s one of the more egregious filings that I’ve seen in a long time. But we have to have a good-faith belief that we could win the challenge.”

That would require disqualifying enough signatures that the Irwin campaign would have fewer than 1,000 valid signatures on its petitions.

The deadline for such challenges is Tuesday, but one Irwin rival wasn’t waiting to go on the attack. The campaign of Jerry Dickinson, a University of Pittsburgh law professor, noted that forging the signature of a federal judge can be a violation of federal law, though the statute in question seems to envision cases in which the signature appears in the context of court proceedings or documents.

“Actions have consequences, and people must be held accountable,” Dickinson said in a statement. “As a constitutional law professor, I firmly believe that those seeking higher office need to be held to a higher standard, and this matter should be fully investigated.”

Irwin’s campaign had been riding high in recent days, having just garnered the supportof Doyle himself as well as the region’s other top Democrat, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

“So far, it’s a great week,” Irwin’s twitter account proclaimed Thursday.

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.