For the second time, a judge has tossed out a lawsuit attempting to temporarily remove Philadelphia’s three city commissioners from their office overseeing voting.
The suit, filed by good-government group Committee of Seventy and political action committee Philadelphia 3.0, argued that election law requires that the commissioners be removed from overseeing elections when an amendment to the Home Rule Charter is on the ballot, as is the case in Tuesday’s primary.
In an order issued Monday, Common Pleas Court Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper disputed that idea, saying the state law was intended for when there is a question on the ballot that commissioners, as a legislative body, had adopted. Philadelphia’s commissioners, unlike those in other counties, don’t legislate.
“In those situations, a clear conflict existed due to their conflicting duties as legislative body and supervisors of the elections during which legislation they enacted as county commissioners would be on the ballot in an election they supervised,” Woods-Skipper wrote in the order.
Woods-Skipper, the court’s president judge, was the defendant in the lawsuit’s first iteration, filed in March with the state Supreme Court. In that suit, the plaintiffs argued Woods-Skipper was required to replace the city commissioners during the current election cycle.
The Supreme Court dismissed the case, giving no reason for its decision. The Committee of Seventy and Philadelphia 3.0 refiled the suit in Common Pleas Court, this time against the three commissioners, late last month.
After hearing that that suit, too, had been dismissed, Commissioner Al Schmidt said the case was “without merit from the jump.”
“I wish the Committee of Seventy the best of luck in its ongoing search for relevance,” he said. “Because really that's what all this is about.”
The jab did not sit well with David Thornburgh, president and CEO of the Committee of Seventy, who said the commissioners are the irrelevant ones.
"That is fundamentally our point, that it's an irrelevant, overpaid office," he said. "And in our view, even the law says there’s really no need for it."
He added that the chairman, Commissioner Anthony Clark, has been widely criticized for rarely coming to the office or voting in elections. (Clark, who has said he keeps in touch with his office by phone, did not respond to a request for comment on the judge's order.)
Thornburgh said he and the plaintiffs are weighing their legal options. The suit was dismissed with prejudice, meaning it cannot be filed again in Common Pleas Court.