Hearing set in Shamokin man's injunction request
SUNBURY - Northumberland County Court has granted a hearing in Dave Kaleta's motion for a preliminary injunction as the Shamokin man attempts to reverse Northumberland County's decision to ban him from Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) property.
Kaleta's motion was filed Monday in conjunction with his lawsuit that claims the county and Commissioners Vinny Clausi and Stephen Bridy violated the Sunshine Act and committed First Amendment retaliation in denying Kaleta's request for a waiver that would allow him to enter the county-owned property.
A plaintiff can request a preliminary injunction as a means of immediate and temporary relief while waiting for the legal process to play out and the court to make a final ruling.
The hearing has been scheduled before Judge Charles Saylor at 1 p.m. Tuesday. It was initially scheduled for Friday, but Saylor granted a continuance at the request of county solicitor Frank Garrigan because Clausi is vacationing in Florida and Bridy is scheduled to undergo a follow-up medical procedure for his shoulder Friday. Garrigan or assistant solicitor John Muncer will represent the county at the hearing.
Representing Kaleta in the case are Attorneys Kymberley Best, Sunbury, and Timothy Bowers, Danville.
The order requesting the hearing was granted by the court Monday.
Not only should the decision to ban Kaleta be voided, his lawsuit argues, but so should the policy of the county requiring users of AOAA lands to sign waivers because those decisions were made without deliberation and a vote at a public meeting. That, Kaleta says, is a violation of the Sunshine Act, which requires that matters of public interest be deliberated and decided at an advertised public meeting.
The county sent a letter, dated Sept. 10, that said the county denied his request to use the land for recreational purposes and that he would be "prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law" if he was found doing so.
Kaleta claims First Amendment retaliation because he said the county and Bridy and Clausi have banned him from county land because he has been a critic of plans for the AOAA, which is being developed as an off-highway vehicle destination for riders from throughout a multi-state region. While he says he doesn't oppose the AOAA project, Kaleta, an avid outdoorsman, has criticized the amount of land set aside for hunting on the park grounds and has questioned trail-cutting practices.
Kaleta said Monday he wasn't seeking any monetary damages, although the lawsuit does ask for relief that includes a mention of compensatory and punitive damages. Kaleta clarified Tuesday that he can't stop the court from possibly awarding monetary damages, "but that's not my goal." He said his main concern as far as money is that his attorneys get paid.
Best, who said she is charging Kaleta $150 per hour, said she will wait to see what happens at the hearing Tuesday before naming any amount of compensatory and punitive damages.
She said with the delay, she may also now argue the Sunshine Act violation in addition to seeking a preliminary injunction at Tuesday's hearing.
"But my client's First Amendment rights being violated is a separate issue and won't be discussed Tuesday," she said.
Clausi on Monday said he stood behind the decision and said he didn't believe sending the letter required formal action by the board and said it never involved a "vote" as was reported to The News-Item for a story published last week. Instead, he said when planning department director Pat Mack asked him about granting a waiver for Kaleta, he told him to send a letter saying "no." Later, Mack, at the suggestion of county solicitor Frank Garrigan, got a second commissioner, Bridy, to back the decision.
The third commissioner, Rick Shoch, said he was never consulted about the issue.
The letter to Kaleta, meanwhile, starts, "It has come to the attention of this board. ..."