HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - A Democratic candidate's run for the Pennsylvania Legislature is down the drain - partly because he used too little water at the house he claimed as his residence.
A state judge on Thursday threw Frederick Ramirez off the ballot in the race for an open House seat in Philadelphia.
The judge found that low water and electric use at the house Ramirez claimed as his residence showed he really didn't live in the district. From March through January he was billed for 95 gallons of water - which is less than two toilet flushes a month. His lawyer said the low numbers, showing zero use in some months, are misleading because of how bills are calculated.
Neighbors testified they never saw Ramirez on their block, the bedroom light was always on and the home never seemed to put out trash for curbside pickup.
"The fact that there are no photographs or pictures on the walls, combined with the fact that his daughter's room is still decorated for an infant, more strongly reveals that (the) candidate is not domiciled at (the house), but merely uses that location as a convenient place to stay" when he is working at a nearby clinic he owns, wrote Commonwealth Court Judge Anne Covey.
The seat became vacant with the Jan. 3 resignation of Democratic Rep. Leslie Acosta. She had been re-elected in November, about two months after her secret guilty plea of conspiracy to commit money laundering to a federal judge became public.
Ramirez's lawyer, Adam Bonin, said the property is indeed Ramirez's home. Bonin said he is considering his options, including a potential appeal.
"Obviously, and especially given when this decision was handed down, time is of the essence," Bonin said.
The judge's ruling leaves just one candidate on the ballot for the March 21 special election, Republican Lucinda Little, in what is an overwhelmingly Democratic district.
"I feel that justice has prevailed," Little said Friday. "We need a representative that actually lives in the district, that actually cares about the district."
A spokeswoman for the Department of State, which oversees elections, said the agency's lawyers were examining whether Democrats are legally allowed to pick a new candidate.
The head of the state Democrats said he expects his party to take some sort of action in the coming days.
"If he's not the candidate, we need to find somebody, even if it's for a write-in," said Marcel Groen, the party chairman. "That said, it's certainly preferable to have someone on the ballot."
The race will not affect partisan control of the state House, where Republicans hold a 121-82 majority.