Williamsport, Pa. — Todd Bartley, content developer for TalkWilliamsport.com and News Talk WMPT on Facebook, challenged the nomination petition submitted by DA hopeful Tom Marino in court on Wednesday.
Marino, former four-term Congressman and U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, announced his intent to run for Lycoming County DA on Feb. 5, 2023.
Bartley's Petition to Set Aside Nomination Petitions claims that Marino's residency violated county code requiring a candidate to prove residency for one year prior to election in the county in which they intend to hold office.
Between the dates of Nov. 7, 2022 and Feb. 4, 2023, Marino admitted to "residing" in Vero Beach, Florida. He registered to vote in Florida, obtained a Florida driver's license, and registered his vehicle in Florida.
The judge's decision appears, in many ways, to linger over semantics between "residence" and "domicile." "Residence" is a person's home; the place where someone lives. "Domicile" is defined as the place a person treats as their permanent home.
Marino's council argued that the former politician was born and raised in Lycoming County, received his education in Pennsylvania, practiced law, raised children, and maintains a home in Lycoming County. Therefore, Lycoming County is his domicile, council said.
"Many people own vacation homes in Florida," Attorney Ronald Hicks argued. "That doesn't mean they change their domicile," he said.
Bartley, representing himself, argued that Marino took all the steps necessary to become a Florida resident with the intention to remain a Florida resident.
Under oath, Marino testified that he registered to vote in Florida in order to be eligible to participate in the Republican Executive Committee in Indian River County.
"I did not intend to vote, and I never did vote in a Florida election," he said. "I wanted to be able to help candidates [as a member of the Executive Committee] for the party whenever I was able to."
Marino and his wife both voted via absentee ballots in the Nov. 2022 General Election in Pennsylvania.
Marino said he changed his driver's license and vehicle registration to abide by Florida law and his homeowner's association guidelines.
"I wasn't going to take the chances," he said, of violating Florida law that a resident had to obtain a Florida license or face a fine up to $500 or more, or jail time.
Additionally, the neighborhood homeowner's association works closely with the Indian River County police to ensure residents are driving vehicles that bear Florida registration, he testified.
Marino's council referred to "page 9, section 13 of the Gatehouse Security Policy," indicating the rule to have a "legally registered" vehicle.
Marino also said the opportunity to run for Lycoming County District Attorney changed his intentions of staying in Florida. Marino surrendered his Florida driver's license on February 4, 2023, in exchange for his Pa. license.
Before taking up residency in their Florida condominium, the couple rented, for a time, a home on Lose Avenue in Loyalsock Township. They acquired a property on Homewood Avenue in Loyalsock Township in July of 2021, and currently list the Homewood Avenue home as their permanent address.
The Marinos relocated to Vero Beach, Florida in October of 2022.
Bartley filed a number of Right to Know Law requests to prove Marino's Florida residency. He first approached Forrest Lehman, director of Lycoming County Voter Services, with his objections and the supporting documents.
Lehman forwarded the request for an investigation directly on to Lycoming County District Attorney Ryan Gardner, who then forwarded it to the state Attorney General's Office.
Related reading: Investigation into Marino’s voting status sent to Attorney General
“This office is confronted with a significant conflict of interest,” Gardner said. “Specifically, since there is a strong likelihood at this time that Mr. Marino may be Lycoming County’s next elected District Attorney, this Office is in no position to render any opinion on this issue.”
The decision now rests with Senior Judge Edward D. Reibman from the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas, who presided over the courtroom via Zoom on Wednesday.
President Judge Nancy Butts has recused all Lycoming County judges from hearing the litigation, citing conflict of interest.
There are currently no other petitions filed by candidates for the Lycoming County DA position.