On a day when conservative "Tea Party" activists were plotting their November revenge for last night's vote by Democrats in the U.S. House to approve health care reform legislation, Pia Varma didn't even show up in court in Philadelphia to fight for her place on the ballot in a challenge to U.S. Rep. Bob Brady. Commonwealth Court Judge Johnny J. Butler ordered Varma removed as a candidate for the 1st Congressional District for failing to submit at least 1,000 valid signatures of registered voters on nominating petitions for her campaign.
Steven Kaplan, an attorney who does legal work for the Democratic City Committee, asked Butler to fine Varma and her campaign, calling the court hearing a "very expensive enterprise." Butler shot down that request as "overkill," though he did say Varma's "conduct is totally unacceptable." A process server testified that he served Varma with a copy of the court notice for the hearing last week as she entered the Center City offices of Fox 29 News, where she was to be interviewed about her candidacy. Kaplan told Butler he called Varma three times, sent her three e-mails and three text messages, advising her about the hearing.
Varma, via email, later told PhillyClout that she had not been served with the hearing notice. She hung responsibility for her nominating petition troubles on local GOP leaders. "Regarding my petitions, as the endorsed candidate, I naively relied on the Republican City Committee to gather the bulk of my signatures," Varma e-mailed. "If there were problems with the signatures then it would be best to ask [GOP Chairman] Vito Canuso or [GOP General Counsel] Michael Meehan. They would know more than me."
Varma and her supporters traded taunts with people posting on her Facebook pages over the weekend. She told PhillyClout last week that she would fight the petition challenge and fall back to a write-in campaign if she was removed from the ballot. Kaplan mocked Varma after this morning's hearing, saying she was trying to be "The Sarah Palin of Philadelphia" by courting the Tea Party movement.
Kaplan knocked Varma off the ballot by successfully challenging nine petitions that held a combined 184 signatures because they were circulated by people who do not live in the 1st Congressional District. Varma had 1,138 names submitted. Kaplan got her below 1,000 signatures, adding that he had "dozens and dozens" of additional challenges if the court wanted to do a line-by-line examination.