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Spirit-of-the-law and letter-of-the-law. Those seem to be the two competing schools of thought among Pennsylvania judges when it comes to political candidate financial interest disclosure jurisprudence. Which camp Luzerne County Senior Judge Patrick J. Toole Jr. belongs to remains to be seen. Toole, sitting by designation in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court to avoid the appearance of impropriety, is presiding over the legal challenge to the mayoral candidacy of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, longtime head of the city’s Democratic Party. Toole heard arguments yesterday from lawyers for Brady and rival candidate Tom Knox as to whether Brady’s omission on financial disclosure forms of his alleged ties to city and carpenters’ union pension funds is enough to kick him off the ballot. Lead counsel for Knox is Paul Rosen of Spector Gadon & Rosen; for Brady, Stephen Cozen of Cozen O’Connor. Cozen is being assisted in the matter by former state Supreme Court justice Sandra Schultz Newman, who recently joined Cozen O’Connor as head of the firm’s appellate practice group. Rosen stressed to Toole that political candidates should be eager to prove “they have nothing to hide.” Cozen reminded the court time and again that the statute governing Pennsylvania candidates’ financial disclosure forms specifically absolves political hopefuls of the duty to disclose governmentally mandated benefits – such as, he suggested, a city pension. That Pennsylvania’s relevant caselaw is a gray landscape full of nonprecedential memorandums from the Commonwealth Court and per curiams from the state Supreme Court did not seem to be lost on Toole. (For an in-depth look at some of those cases, read tomorrow’s Legal.) At one point during the proceeding, one of Brady’s attorneys called Toole’s attention to the fact that a Commonwealth Court opinion referred to a moment earlier had never been officially published. “Let me tell you: It’s always better than nothing,” said Toole, a former president judge of his county’s court system. As the afternoon wore on, Toole indicated to the gallery that he would be considering his decision in the coming days. Regardless of whether Toole or any other court ultimately concludes Brady should be excluded from the mayor’s race, the litigation is generating plenty of rhetorical ammo for Knox, the self-made millionaire whose frequent TV ads herald his humble beginnings and anti-corruption agenda. Toole began yesterday’s hearing by rejecting Brady’s attorneys’ request that the congressman not be forced to appear in court so that he could make it to Washington, D.C., in time to participate in legislative business. “Today is the day,” Toole said, adding later, “I feel that his appearance is required.” During his time on the stand, Brady acknowledged that in completing the financial disclosure statement he filed in conjunction with his mayoral bid, he deferred to accounting and legal advisers to OK the form before he signed it. And a carpenters’ union official’s testimony featured a lengthy list of apparent donations from the union to entities that seemed to be linked to Brady. As he exited the courtroom yesterday to a waiting swarm of reporters and cameras, Knox was quick to skewer his opponent as to both revelations. Brady’s testimony yesterday also cast a spotlight on his spokeswoman Kate Philips, who left Gov. Edward G. Rendell’s press office to join Brady’s campaign staff. After local media began reporting earlier this month that Brady’s mayoral bid financial statement made no reference to a city pension that an earlier federal disclosure form did, the Philadelphia Daily News quoted Philips as suggesting that Brady had committed an unintentional error that could be corrected by an amendment. But on the stand yesterday, Brady said that he had not authorized his press office to issue a statement to the media indicating that Brady had made an error on his financial disclosure form. He then effectively admitted that he had not asked Philips to correct the alleged misstatement. In an interview outside the courtroom yesterday, Philips told The Legal she still serves as the spokeswoman for the Brady campaign and was not reprimanded over her apparently unauthorized statements to the press. “This is not about me; it’s not about the statement of financial interest,” Philips said of the unfolding litigation. “It’s about Tom Knox throwing money around.”

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