Federal judge denies Northumberland County's request to dismiss Kaleta's lawyers
WILLIAMSPORT - A federal judge denied a motion Monday by Northumberland County and commissioners Vinny Clausi and Stephen Bridy to disqualify attorneys Timothy Bowers and Kymberly Best from representing David Kaleta, of Shamokin, who filed a lawsuit over issues related to the county's Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA).
The county and the commissioners claimed that during the time both Bowers and Best were employed by the county - Best from Sept. 15, 2009, to March 18, 2011, and Bowers from April 29 to Sept. 3, 2010, with Bowers maintaining an attorney-client relationship with the county after that - they dealt with administrative and legal issues related to the proposed outdoor recreation area.
However, in a 27-page opinion, U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson concluded there is no conflict between Bowers and Best's past relationship with the county and their representation of Kaleta, because nothing they learned while employed by the county would give rise to conflict nor would they be privy to confidential information that could be used against the county.
Furthermore, the decision to restrict Kaleta's access to the AOAA in August 2012 was made after Best and Bowers were no longer employed by the county, Carlson said.
He said Kaleta is not "bringing sweeping or broad challenges to the AOAA project, or even regarding the public's use of this land generally; instead, he has challenged the county's decision, allegedly made private in August 2012 by two county commissioners, to flatly deny his request to access the AOAA, in a manner that he contends violates the Sunshine Act and the First Amendment."
In considering the nature and scope of Bowers and Best's prior representation of the county, Carlson said the county has "offered relatively little to support their assertions regarding not only the nature of the former representation, but most importantly to link that prior representation meaningfully with the issues presented in the instant litigation."
Additionally, said Carlson, although "Best and Bowers have some familiarity with the way in which the county processes litigation brought against it, or even how the county has in past settled lawsuits, we do not believe that this is of such significance that it compels the disqualification of counsel in this case."
Kaleta, who has been critical of the county plans to build the 6,500-acre recreational area on forest and abandoned coal lands in Coal, East Cameron, Mount Carmel, West Cameron and Zerbe townships, was informed in a Sept. 10 letter from county planning director Pat Mack that his request to use the land for hunting and walking his dog had been denied after consideration by "two of three members of the board of commissioners," later determined to be Bridy and Clausi,
Kaleta, claiming the discussion to deny his permit is a violation of the Sunshine Act, won a preliminary injunction in Northumberland County Court.
With Kaleta alleging a violation of his First Amendment rights, the case was moved to federal court.