Northumberland County blasts back at Kaleta
WILLIAMSPORT - Arguments continue between attorneys for outdoor enthusiast David Kaleta and Northumberland County Commissioners Vinny Clausi and Stephen Bridy over Kaleta's 2012 lawsuit arguing Sunshine Law and constitutional violations related to county land access.
On Wednesday, attorneys for Lavery, Faherty and Patterson, of Harrisburg, who are representing the county and the two commissioners, filed a brief in support of their objections to a June 18 report and recommendation by U.S. Magistrate Martin E. Carlson that two of Kaleta's claims - that the county violated the Sunshine Act by banning him from the AOAA grounds and that his First Amendment rights were violated by the commissioners'
decisions - should be brought to trial. It was the fourth filing in the case in the past month.
Kaleta claims a decision to deny him access to land that he cared for as part of his Habitat for Wildlife group, and that was part of the developing Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA), was a violation of the Sunshine Act, and he won a preliminary injunction in Northumberland County Court. Because Kaleta alleged his First Amendment rights were also violated, the case was moved to federal court.
County attorneys said in the new brief that just because the waiver was denied doesn't mean Kaleta's rights were violated.
"The court construed the denial of the waiver as a retraction of an already existing right of access, rather than a request for access where no right previously existed," they wrote. The access was denied "based on a policy that no individual access would be permitted at all. Yet there was no right of individuals to access the land initially, and therefore the denial of the waiver was not the restriction of any right."
The brief reads that county planning manager Pat Mack, who consulted with Clausi and Bridy before denying Kaleta the waiver, was given the authority to issue permits for group events. Since no policy for access of individuals on the AOAA was set, any consultation on the waiver between Mack, Clausi and Bridy that occurred is irrelevant, the county argues.
The brief says that the First Amendment retaliation alleged by Kaleta, due to his comments against the AOAA, is also wrong because Kaleta did not dispute the vote to restrict his access to the land that occurred in 2010, when Habitat For Wildlife's lease for the "Alaska site" was not renewed.
He also did not dispute the lease decision arose from the county's plan to create the AOAA, the county argued in the latest filing.
The idea that someone has a right to the land just because it is public is also disputed by the county.
"... Simply because the land at issue is owned by the county of Northumberland does not mean that the citizens of the county possess a right to access the land," the brief says.