February 15, 2013
The Luzerne County Ethics Commission held a closed-door hearing at the county courthouse Thursday night as part of an appeal filed by deputy coroner Daniel Hughes.
Hughes is contesting the commission's December decision that he should be admonished for violating a county ethics code ban applying to deputies affiliated with funeral homes.
The ruling stemmed from a complaint filed by Wilkes-Barre resident Belinda Coulibaly, whose father unexpectedly died of natural causes in August. Coulibaly, a King's College student, said Hughes violated a ban prohibiting coroners from soliciting, discussing or accepting business for a funeral home with which they are associated while they're engaged in county business.
Hughes said he had no such discussion while engaged in his role as deputy coroner, according to his request for an evidentiary hearing filed through attorney Kim Borland.
Borland also questioned the commission's procedure, saying the ruling was issued without providing Hughes with a copy of the complaint or the opportunity to challenge the assertions.
It is a violation of the most fundamental precepts of American government and justice for a governmental body, such as this commission, to issue punishment first and allow for a hearing later, the appeal request said.
Hughes and Coulibaly will have the option to appeal the final ruling to the county Court of Common Pleas.
The commission also held a public session before the hearing and voted to dismiss two complaints from 2012, saying there was insufficient evidence of ethics code violations.
The commission cited sections of the code that complaint filers alleged were violated, but the names and any identifying details about the accused are kept confidential under the ethics code.
Details about some complaints, including the one involving Hughes, were publicly reported because the code does not bar complaint filers from discussing allegations.
Commission member Walter Griffith voted against one of the complaint dismissals Thursday. He had appointed a citizen as his designee on the commission in light of reports that he's under investigation for alleged wiretapping but said he voted on these cases because they were filed last year.
Attorney Joseph Giovannini voted Thursday as county District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis' designee, though she later attended the hearing involving Hughes.
Kingston resident Brian Shiner chastised the commission for failing to identify Giovannini at the voting session.
County Manager Robert Lawton abstained from voting on both complaints. His continued abstentions have prompted complaints from citizens. Lawton said his designee, Kingston Administrator Paul Keating, will be involved in future decisions if he believes he has a conflict of interest due to his position.
County council-appointed citizens Margaret Hogan and Vito Forlenza also serve on the commission.