In December 2011, state Sen. Mike Waugh, R-Shrewsbury Township, recommended that Gov. Tom Corbett appoint Michael Flannelly to fill a vacancy on the York County Court of Common Pleas.
“He is held in high regard by everyone I talked to,” Waugh said at the time. “It was pretty amazing. I’m comfortable with my choice.”
Corbett took Waugh’s advice, and the state Senate in June 2012 unanimously confirmed Flannelly to the seat left vacant by the unexpected death of Judge Chuck Patterson.
So what happened?
Waugh said Platts was always his first choice for the Common Pleas position. He spoke to Platts about it in 2011, before he talked with Flannelly, he said.
“If he had agreed, frankly, his name would have been the one submitted,” Waugh said Thursday.
Platts, a former state lawmaker who was serving in the U.S. House of Representatives at the time, declined.
Platts said he wanted to complete his term, so voters wouldn’t be unrepresented for at least several months, so the district wouldn’t be carved up in the redistricting process and so that his staff would have more time to prepare for a change.
“I’m very comfortable with the approach I took, because I kept my word to my constituents,” Platts said.
At the beginning of the judicial campaign, Waugh said he told both Platts and Flannelly he would not be publicly supporting either candidate.
He said he changed his mind after learning how much money Scott R. Wagner has contributed to Flannelly’s campaign.
Wagner, owner and president of Penn Waste Inc., contributed more than $131,292 as of last week, out of $147,842 total, for Flannelly’s campaign, according to campaign finance reports provided by Flannelly’s campaign.
“I think that’s wrong,” Waugh said. “…It’s one thing to be a major donor. It’s another thing to essentially fund an entire campaign.”
Waugh said this race has made him consider whether the state needs to limit individual contributions for state and county races.
Waugh co-signed a letter supporting Platts with state Rep. Ron Miller, R-Jacobus, and another one with state Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Hellam Township. Platts’ campaign sent them to targeted voters, and the message was the same for each letter, Platts said. Platts provided a copy of a letter.
Most of it is devoted to praising Platts, and it doesn’t mention that he was Waugh’s first choice to replace Patterson.
Flannelly isn’t mentioned by name.
“Todd is again running a positive, grassroots campaign for the privilege of serving our community. He remains steadfast in his refusal to engage in negative campaign tactics,” the letter that Waugh co-signed says. “Even with the knowledge that he will likely be outspent three to one by his opponent, Todd’s campaign is being funded solely by contributions from individual citizens.”
Platts has said he is voluntarily limiting individual contribution amounts to match federal limits.
Flannelly called Waugh’s comments and the letter last-minute “negative campaigning wrapped in the thin veneer of a positive letter.”
He said there have been no allegations that anything he’s said in any mailers or advertisements is in any way untrue.
“So, apparently, the complaint is that I’m telling too much truth. And if that is a crime, then I am guilty,” Flannelly said.
He said he’s not surprised to see local politicians support another local politician.
“My legal background goes back three decades, as opposed to six months, 20 years ago,” Flannelly said. “And that should be the focus of this campaign.”
Platts said he began his legal career at a law firm, worked there for about nine or 10 months, left when he decided to run for state representative and worked on his own before taking office. Flannelly said the six months comment was referring to Platts’ time at that law firm.
“He clearly is being negative in trying to characterize my qualifications in a specific way,” Platts said. “Whether he likes it or not, I’ve been a licensed attorney for more than 18 years.”
In April, Platts said Wagner was putting out untruthful information about his pension and benefits, and that Flannelly wasn’t doing anything to stop it. Wagner later corrected the information.
Wagner said Platts spent more than $1 million of taxpayer money in the 12 years he was in Congress, sending newsletters, and promoting himself and his activities.
“Judge Flannelly is the most qualified candidate, but he could not give the voters a real choice in the election without financial resources,” Wagner said in a statement. “Judge Flannelly was stuck between a rock and a hard place — he needed resources to educate the voters, but would be criticized for accepting this much help from me.”
Wagner said Flannelly has already committed to recusing himself for any case involving him, and that he can’t benefit from the contributions. He said he sees his contributions as a community service, like ones he has made to the Veterans Memorial Gold Star Healing and Peace Garden in York, United Way and Crispus Attucks.
A representative for Wagner’s provided summary tables for two quarters of expenses for mass mailings and communications while Platts was in office, showing $13,759 worth of expenses in one quarter, and $37,618 in another.
Platts said he didn’t know specifically what Wagner was referring to with the more than $1 million figure, but he said his mailing budget also included responding to constituents who contacted the office.
Platts said that while he was in Congress, he turned back more than $1 million that was budgeted to him, but that his office didn’t spend.
“I will trust the people of York County to decide whether they think I worked effectively and honorably on their behalf over the last 12 years,” Platts said.