Lindsey Williams, who won a close election in Pennsylvania Senate District 38 last month, has offered up nearly 100 pages of material to Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati to prove she is eligible to hold the seat.
“To deprive the voters of their choice of senator, in effect overturning an election, and creating a vacancy in the office for several months should not be something taken lightly,” wrote attorney Charles Pascal in a nine-page memo accompanying the submission.
The material was submitted to meet a Monday deadline to prove that Williams meets state residency requirements.
As WESA first reported last month, Republicans have been eyeing whether Williams met a constitutional requirement that state senators be Pennsylvania residents for four years prior to the date of their election.
In November 2014, Williams was relocating to Pittsburgh, having taken a job with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers in late October. But Republicans have argued that she did not have a Pennsylvania residence on Nov. 6, 2014, exactly four years before the 2018 midterm election. They’ve cited the fact that she voted in Maryland on Nov. 4, 2014, and that a speeding ticket in November still showed her as a Maryland resident.
The total filing is nearly 100 pages long and includes more than 20 documents pertaining to Williams' move, plus a handful of sworn statements from Williams, family and friends.
The documents include job offer letters and other correspondence, plus evidence that Williams voted early in Maryland, which allows pre-Election Day polling. The material includes a lease she signed in November, a temporary Pennsylvania driver’s license issued in December, and other items consistent with an effort to relocate.
As for where Williams resided on the exact date of Nov. 6, 2014, the filing includes affidavits from Williams and two friends that she began staying with them temporarily on that very day.
According to the memo, after getting the teachers union job, Williams contacted two friends “who agreed that Ms. Williams could take up residence with them in their home in suburban Pittsburgh for an indefinite period of time until she could find an acceptable apartment of her own."
The memo argues that those temporary lodgings, when combined with the intent to establish more permanent residence, should prove Williams’ residency. The memo cites a 1956 state Supreme Court opinion in a case involving the filing of a will: The court held that living in a temporary home while preparing to move more permanently could be a basis for residence.
“Where a person resolves to change his residence … and pursuant leaves his old home and takes quarters temporarily in a hotel … his domicile is where he is for the time being,” the court determined.
At least initially, Republicans did not seem convinced. Drew Crompton, who is the general counsel for Senate Republicans, said it would “take us a few days” to review the submission, but “the documents we requested have been provided and all of them are well past the November 6, 2014 deadline. We will share more as we move forward.”
“We have retained outside legal counsel in light of [the fact that] some of what she has provided is extensive legal cites,” Crompton added.
In politics, residency cases involve a fixed address, and the questions focus largely on how serious a candidate was about living there. The Williams case presents the opposite scenario: she has four years of residency as proof of what her intentions were four years ago, but Republicans are focused on where she lived for a period of a few weeks between early November and early December.
A challenge to Williams’ residency has already been shot down. During the campaign, a Republican attorney filed a lawsuit to remove her from the ballot, but a Commonwealth Court judge found that the case had been filed months too late.
But under the Constitution, the Senate “shall judge of the … qualifications of its members.” Scarnati has sounded downbeat about Williams’ prospects in recent days. Last week he told the online journal Capitolwire, “Either you were or you weren’t” a resident. “The word ‘intended’ gets thrown around a lot – I don’t believe I can accept ‘intended’ as a residency requirement.”
Scarnati said he hoped to resolve the issue this month. The Senate's new legislative session convenes on New Year’s Day.
Katie Meyer contributed to this story.