Williamsport, Pa. — One day after the Lycoming County Commissioners held a public meeting to solidify their promise for a hand recount in two races of the 2020 election, they were hit with a lawsuit.

Two members of the Lycoming County Patriots group filed a suit against Lycoming County officials on Dec. 6 for failing to conduct a forensic audit of the 2020 election after they presented officials with alleged evidence of fraud.  

Attorney Gregory A. Stapp of Williamsport is representing the plaintiffs, Richard Houser and Catherine Burns. He filed the lawsuit with the Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas. Republican county commissioners Tony Mussare and Scott Metzger are named as defendants, as well as Democratic commissioner Rick Mirabito and Forrest Lehman, director of Voter Services in Lycoming County.

The lawsuit says the plaintiffs had shown the commissioners "evidence of fraud, numerous irregularities, and violations of the Election Code." However, the commissioners have not done the forensic audit of the election as the group requested, nor have they investigated the fraud claims, they said. The plaintiffs are asking that the forensic audit be done by an independent third-party. 

Commissioner Mirabito and Lehman both addressed the lawsuit briefly during a meeting on Thursday, Dec. 9.

"It's a pending legal matter, so we have to be very careful about commenting about it in detail," Lehman said. "Any court filing is a serious obviously we'll review and respond to that," he said.

"I believe that we have addressed all of the issues in the document in terms of our responsibility to address issues that are brought to us regarding elections," said Mirabito.

Many of the issues brought up in the suit are ones that were already brought up in "lengthy" public meetings in June and July, Mirabito continued. Lehman, at the time, conducted a presentation where he addressed each of the complaints.

"Just because they file a lawsuit does not mean that there is merit in the lawsuit," Mirabito added. 

In October, the commissioners voted 2-1 along party lines to conduct a hand recount of the 2020 election ballots. The recount will include the Presidential election and a statewide election.

Commissioners were expected to solidify details of the recount during a public meeting on Monday, Dec. 5, but due to a mixup in printing the public notice on time, those details were put on hold. They expect to formally vote on those details in a meeting yet to be scheduled.

The public did have opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns in that Dec. 5 meeting.

In the lawsuit, Houser and Burns are seeking a court order requiring the Elections Board to report any suspicious activity uncovered by the audit to the district attorney. If it's determined that fraud is proven for the 2020 election, they ask that the county decertify results. 

Members of the group Audit the Vote PA had initially met with commissioners in fall of 2021 to discuss how a forensic audit, similar to the recount in Arizona, could be performed. The group had offered to privately fund the audit, according to the complaint. 

After the commissioners allegedly failed to take action, several private citizens in the county decided to conduct a canvass of houses early this year. The group said they found several irregularities. This includes evidence of a vote cast from a Hughesville address that allegedly doesn't exist, and a vote from a woman living in a nursing home who had been bedridden and deemed "not capable," Stapp wrote in the complaint. 

The complaint alleged that during a May 2022 commissioners meeting, Mussare admitted that he believed there was evidence of fraud at the county's 2020 elections. It's a claim he fervently discredited at Tuesday's commissioners meeting.

In July 2022, the website Look Ahead America, run by former Trump official Matt Braynard, provided 11 potential fraudulent registrations to Lehman. According to the complaint, Lehman admitted that six of the registrations looked suspicious. 

A group of concerned private citizens then passed around a petition to add a referendum on the ballot for the November 2022 election in Lycoming County. However, the Pennsylvania Department of State told the commissioners they could not put the referendum on the ballot. The plaintiffs state in the lawsuit they believe the Department of State had misinterpreted the case and the referendum would indeed be legal. 

One other concern the plaintiffs brought up is the county's solicitor, J. Michael Wiley, is a conflict of interest for the county. Sen. Wiley works at McCormick Law Firm, the same firm Sen. Gene Yaw is affiliated with. The plaintiffs "believe that it is a clear conflict of interest for McCormick Law Firm to represent the Lycoming County Commissioners who are members of the Board of Elections that is charged under the law with overseeing elections in Lycoming County where Sen. Gene Yaw ran for office in 2020," the complaint states. 

"It continues to be a surreal experience, going into 2023 and we're still talking about 2020," said Lehman about the newest lawsuit. "I believe we've always acted as a county in good faith and in accordance with election laws and court rulings." 

Keep your news local

Access to independent, local news is important, do you agree?

We work hard to deliver timely, relevant news, for free. 100% of your contribution to goes directly to helping us cover news and events in the region.

Thank you for saying that local news matters!