SCRANTON — Former Luzerne County Chief Public Defender Al Flora filed a lawsuit in federal court Monday alleging his termination was retaliation by county officials.
The lawsuit, filed on Flora’s behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union, claims county Manager Robert Lawton relieved him of his duties due to reforms Flora was imposing in the Public Defender’s Office and Flora’s revelation that 3,000 juvenile cases the court ordered destroyed continue to exist.
Flora filed a previouslawsuit in Luzerne County Court on April 10, 2012, claiming the Public Defender’s Office was so underfunded and understaffed it could not provide adequate defense to indigent defendants. The situation had become so dire, Flora argued, he was forced to limit the type of cases the office would accept, which led to hundreds of defendants not getting representation.
Senior Judge Joseph Augello in June ordered Flora to resume representing all defendants who qualified for representation and told the county to allow Flora to fill vacant positions.
Augello’s ruling did not settle any discontent among Flora, Lawton and County Council.
Flora, who became part-time chief public defender in May 2010 after 30 years in the office, filed a separate federal lawsuit in April 2012 seeking to prevent his firing due to the lawsuit seeking more money for the Public Defender’s Office.
Flora withdrew the federal suit on March 11 under an agreement that Lawton had not nominated anyone for the chief public defender’s post.
The lawsuit alleges Lawton and County Council did not approve any increase in the public defender’s budget but proposed to add a full-time position as chief public defender.
Just days after Flora withdrew the April 2012 lawsuit, Lawton interviewed Flora and five other candidates for the new full-time chief public-defender position.
At the same time Flora was interviewed, the lawsuit alleges, a new tension erupted between Flora and Lawton regarding 3,000 juvenile cases that had not been expunged.
The state Supreme Court in March 2009 ordered the expungements of criminal records of all juveniles charged with certain minor offenses who appeared before former county Judge Mark Ciavarella from 2003 to 2009. In February 2011, a federal jury convicted Ciavarella of 12 counts related to his acceptance of $1 million from Robert Mericle, who built two juvenile detention centers used by Luzerne County. Ciavarella was sentenced to 28 years in prison.
Ciavarella’s one-time co-defendant, former Judge Michael Conahan, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and was sentenced in September 2011 to 17 1/2 years in prison.
Flora said the fact that 3,000 juvenile cases were not erased was discovered in late February, and District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis, President Judge Thomas Burke and Court Administrator Michael Shucosky were alerted.
The lawsuit alleges Lawton “berated (Flora) for disclosing the matter outside county administration.”
Salavantis on Friday sent a letter about the status of the juvenile expungements to Senior Berks County Judge Arthur Grim, whom the Supreme Court appointed as a special master to review thousands of county juvenile cases.
Flora claims County Council has made numerous statements to the media about its desire to remove him because of his demands for additional funding and his decision to file a lawsuit for more money.
County Council, acting on Lawton’s recommendation, on April 9 hired Kingston attorney Stephen Greenwald as chief public defender. Greenwald is expected to begin directing the office on Monday .
Lawton relieved Flora of his duties on April 17 and in an email Monday alerted County Council about the lawsuit. He declined comment.