SUNBURY - A gag order has been issued in the defamation lawsuit filed by two former Northumberland County sheriff's deputies because defendant Vinny Clausi has been "attempting to try the case publicly."

That's what the lawyer for plaintiffs Michael Boris and Joseph Jones claimed in his petition for the gag order, which Columbia County President Judge Thomas A. James issued Oct. 7. James is hearing the case because all three Northumberland County Court judges have recused themselves.

Boris and Jones sued Clausi, the Northumberland County commissioner chairman, and county Sheriff Chad Reiner in January 2010 following an investigation into a porn-viewing scandal in the sheriff's office. Boris and Jones were fired Jan. 13, 2010, by Reiner for violating the department's computer policy by failing to secure their passwords and make sure no inappropriate material was retrieved using their passwords.

James' initial one-page typed order said the defendants were to stop discussing the case, or substantial facts about it, with the media or the public at large. James added a hand-written note to include the plaintiffs, he confirmed Wednesday.

"Any person or party violating this order shall be subject to civil contempt proceedings and, if found in violation, may be subject to severe fines and/or a period of incarceration," the order reads.

Douglas Engleman, attorney for Boris and Jones, was asked Wednesday what prompted the petition, but he cited the court order in saying he couldn't comment.

Clausi's comments

The petition itself, however, offers details about Clausi discussing the case publicly. The petition, a public document, was obtained through the county prothonotary's office at the request of The News-Item.

Engelman said Clausi has said publicly that there were "10,000 hits of pornography" on a sheriff's office computer, and said the public could therefore believe Boris and Jones are the ones who viewed the material and viewed pornography 10,000 times, since they were fired following an investigation into the matter.

"In discovery, the defendants have only alleged a few pornographic viewings by the plaintiffs occurred during a limited timeframe. The plaintiffs have specifically denied this conduct," the motion reads.

Englemen wrote if a hearing was held on the matter, Clausi's statements made in the press would be proven to have no factual basis, and that Boris and Jones have had no opportunity to counter the statements to the media.

The attorney claims Clausi is "attempting to try the case publicly without plaintiffs having a right to cross examine or put forth their evidence," thus tainting the jury pool.

Clausi is also accused of making comments at public meetings covered by the press.

The News-Item reported from an Oct. 1 commissioners' meeting that Clausi expressed frustration about the time that has passed since the suit was filed and about how much it is costing the county to defend it. He said he was going to contact attorneys handling the case for the county because he wanted to "move forward" with a trial as soon as possible. He said he believed the evidence is overwhelming.

Asked Wednesday for comment, Clausi said he was advised by his attorney not to say anything about the plaintiffs, "but stay tuned," he said.