Conviction of borough council members overturned
July 9, 2014 —
HONESDALE, PA — The Wayne County Common Pleas Court, with the Honorable Gregory Chelak of Pike County specially presiding, on June 30 overturned the conviction of seven current and former members of the Honesdale Borough Council who had been found guilty of violating the rights of former acting Honesdale police chief Ronald Kominski.
The council members were convicted in October 2013 of violating Kominski’s rights under the state’s Sunshine Law.
It was not contested that the council discussed a complaint lodged against Kominski by Magistrate Judge Ted Mikulak in executive session at a council meeting in August 2013. At the original trial, attorney Michael Lehutsky told Magistrate Judge Bonnie Carney that because of the Sunshine Act, Kominski had a right to know in advance if a complaint about him was going to be discussed and he had a right to choose whether he wanted to have the matter discussed in open session or in executive session.
Carney agreed with Lehutsky, and the defendants were found guilty and faced fines of $100 plus additional court costs.
But the council members appealed, and this time the court said the council members did nothing wrong because they took no action and had no deliberations in executive session.
Judge Gregory Chelak wrote in his decision, “the brief exchange which occurred in the executive session on the subject of Judge Mikulak’s letter cannot be considered ‘deliberations’ as defined by the Act... Whether borough council would have begun deliberating this subject remains unknown since the conversation was concluded abruptly when an argument ensued between Mayor Langendoerfer and Judge Mikulak. Without further discussion of the subject matter by the council, for the purpose of making a decision, we are compelled to conclude that this brief exchange was not ‘deliberations’ as defined by the Act. We do note, however, that if the brief exchange had not ended and further discussion ensued, with or without the council members’ involvement, it could have entered the realm of deliberations as defined under the Act.
The judge, who based his decision on a Supreme Court precedent, concluded, “This court is of the opinion that, in hindsight, it might not have been the best decision of the council to attempt to address Judge Mikulak’s complaint in an executive session, but the evidence presented does not sustain the commonwealth’s burden of proof, under the relevant law, in these proceedings.”