Saylor recuses himself in row officer case
SUNBURY - Northumberland County Judge Charles H. Saylor has recused himself from hearing the lawsuit filed by four Northumberland County row officers whose salaries will be cut up to 48 percent if re-elected.
Saylor, who joins fellow county judges Robert B. Sacavage and William H. Wiest in recusing themselves, said in a court document signed Thursday that he has a beneficial interest in the outcome of the litigation and his rulings have been vilified by county Commissioner Vinny Clausi and Stephen Bridy when they do not obtain rulings to their personal liking.
The 52-page suit was filed against Clausi, Bridy, Commissioner Richard Shoch and the county by Register and Recorder Mary Zimmerman, Coroner James F. Kelley, Treasurer Kevin Gilroy and Sheriff Chad Reiner.
In Saylor's order, he said he previously consulted with the row officers' attorney, Samuel C. Stretton, on a separate matter, and Stretton made inquiries on his behalf that ended in favor of Saylor more than a year ago.
The row officers' complaint states that relief is required because of the negative impact of the row officers' ability to perform their duties and responsibilities, and that reduction in the sheriff's office impacts security that places judicial officers at risk.
The complaint also states one of the row officers' duties is to support the judicial system, which they say will be undermined.
Saylor, as a judicial officer, said he is "dependent upon the proper functioning of these offices for assistance in the administration of justice, as well as adequate security protection from the sheriff's department."
Therefore, he has a "beneficial interest in the outcome of this litigation," Saylor said.
The row officers say the pay reductions for five of six row offices imposed through the Oct. 1 vote by Clausi and Bridy violate state statute that requires salary increases or decreases be applied equally to all county officials and that "one county official should not make substantially more or less than another."
The increase of health care insurance contributions to 50 percent of the county cost for all row officers is also illegal because the statute requires benefits to be the same for all county employees, the suit says.
It also cites constitutional claims of association under the First and Fourteenth amendments, noting plaintiffs who are up for election this year have to deal with the "sudden reductions" after they "ran for these offices with the expectation the salary and benefits would allow them to fulfill their duties and responsibilities."
Although Shoch voted against the salary cuts - which reduce pay for the offices from their current range of $53,000 to $57,000 to about $31,000, and the insurance increase - he is listed as a defendant.
The salary cuts will save the county $151,294, and the increased health care contributions will save thousands more. Bridy and Clausi also voted to cut the salaries of commissioners nearly in half, from $61,000 to $31,000, saving another $90,000.
Controller Tony Phillips, who is seeking re-election, is not part of the suit since the salary for his office remained at $56,676, which seems to be the basis for the suit's argument that decreases must be "applied equally."
Prothonotary Kathleen Strausser, who is retiring at the end of the year, and District Attorney Tony Rosini, whose salary is set by the state, also are not involved in the suit, although the next prothonotary would make the lower rate when he or she takes office Jan. 1.
The salary cuts are to take effect in the year after the election for the position.