Further action on Halcovage's potential impeachment won't happen this legislative session

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Oct. 26—Further action by the state House of Representatives on the potential impeachment of Schuylkill County Commissioner George F. Halcovage Jr. won't happen before the end of the current legislative session.

The chair of the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Courts said Monday that additional subpoenas have been issued and depositions scheduled.

"We plan to continue this important work in the coming months," an emailed statement from Rep. Paul Schemel, R-90, Franklin County, said.

The final legislative session date is Nov. 16 and the legislative session ends Nov. 30, meaning the case will continue into the next term.

When the subcommittee convened at the state Capitol in Harrisburg in September, Schemel said it was the group's intention to complete its work "within the session so that the House and potentially the Senate would have their chance to move forward."

His office did not comment further on the delay.

The subcommittee, which was assigned the Halcovage case in January, collected testimony during a six-hour, closed-door hearing Sept. 15.

The subcommittee met again Sept. 19, but did not take a vote that would have sent House Resolution 99, which authorized the investigation into Halcovage's conduct in office, to the full House of Representatives.

The subcommittee did vote that day, 5-1, to issue a referral to the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office, citing information "which is of interest of a criminal nature," and voted unanimously to authorize more subpoenas.

Schemel and subcommittee member Rep. Joseph Hohenstein, D-177, Philadelphia, acknowledged in September that the continuing process might be frustrating for Schuylkill County residents.

Hohenstein said the panel has an obligation to "provide a recommendation that we feel reflects the facts and the law. This obligation requires that we provide a process that permits the full development of the case."

Halcovage was critical of the Sept. 15 hearing process, saying in a statement that his lawyer recommended against providing non-public and unsworn testimony as requested by the subcommittee.

He said others who appeared before the panel could have made statements not under oath and that there is little recourse if what they said was not accurate.

Schemel cited Rule 51 in having all but the opening minute of the hearing held in executive session.

Howard Merrick, chairman of the Republican Party in Schuylkill County, said it's important that the impeachment process continues.

"The residents of Schuylkill County deserve to know what the evidence shows," he said by text when told Monday of the delay. "Next year is an election year, and this process needs to be finished."

Reps. Jerry Knowles, R-124, Rush Twp., Tim Twardzik, R-123, Butler Twp., and Joe Kerwin, R-125, Lykens, who have called for Halcovage's resignation, introduced HR99 in May 2021.

It passed the House Judiciary Committee 25-0 and the full House approved it 200-0 in November. On Jan. 11, the House Committee on Courts voted to consider the resolution, authorizing the subcommittee to act.

If the committee finds Halcovage engaged in "impeachable" conduct, articles of impeachment can be prepared. If Halcovage is impeached by the House, the state Senate would conduct a trial, and if two-thirds of the senators vote for conviction, Halcovage would be removed from office. A majority vote — 102 of 203 — is needed in the House; two-thirds of the Senate is 34 of 50 members.

The county solicitor and human resources office found Halcovage violated county policies on sexual harassment, conduct and discipline. District Attorney Michael A. O'Pake referred the case to the Attorney General's Office on July 8, 2020. That office closed the case Feb. 5, 2021, without filing charges. Details were not provided, although a spokesman at the time said that the statute of limitations were among the considerations.

Halcovage has denied the allegations. Gerald Geiger, his attorney, did not return a call for comment Monday or Tuesday morning.

Catherine Smith, attorney for the four women who have sued Halcovage in federal court for sexual harassment and in some cases sexual assault, and who testified in September before the subcommittee, also did not return a call for comment Monday or Tuesday morning.

Contact the writer: amarchiano@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6023