WILKES-BARRE – Luzerne County taxpayers will foot the bill for Controller Walter Griffith's defense of a civil lawsuit that alleges he violated the state's wiretap law, chief solicitor Vito DeLuca said Tuesday.
Griffith, who along with the county is being sued by Judd Shoval, is entitled to legal representation by the county because the alleged violations were committed in Griffith's official capacity as controller, DeLuca said.
Shoval, a member of the board of CityVest, a nonprofit group that sought to revitalize the Hotel Sterling, filed suit against Griffith and the county on Monday.
The suit alleges Griffith recorded a March 29 telephone conversation Shoval had with him without Shoval's knowledge or consent. Shoval seeks damages for violation of the state wiretap law and invasion of privacy.
Griffith on Monday denied he had secretly recorded Shoval or anyone else.
District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis on Tuesday said Griffith turned over the alleged recording of the Shoval conversation, as well as other recordings Griffith allegedly made, to federal agents who had subpoenaed records related to a grand jury investigation of the Hotel Sterling revitalization project.
The agents realized Griffith might have violated the wiretap law and turned the recordings over to her, Salavantis said. She has referred the case to the state Office of Attorney General for a criminal investigation.
DeLuca said the county-paid attorneys will represent Griffith in the civil suit, but Griffith would be personally responsible to pay for an attorney to represent him regarding the criminal probe.
Shoval's lawsuit also names the county as a defendant.
The county has an insurance policy to cover such lawsuits, DeLuca said. He said he has contacted the county's insurance carrier to notify it of the lawsuit and request that it appoint counsel to represent Griffith and the county.
The insurance carrier will cover all attorney's fees, said DeLuca, but the county must pay the first $150,000, which is the deductible on the policy.