Luzerne County’s administration is once again asking county council to approve a litigation settlement with former county election director Leonard Piazza.
Council had deadlocked 5-5 in a vote to settle the litigation for $56,000 in August. A tie was possible at that time because Councilwoman Linda McClosky Houck was absent.
Piazza sued the county in June 2013, arguing his 2012 termination was political and stemmed from his inquiries into then-county controller Walter Griffith’s campaign finance reports. The county maintained Piazza was fired for exceeding the scope of his authority by conducting a “clearly retaliatory” review of Griffith’s campaign reports in response to Griffith’s plans to audit the election office.
Matters stuck in a tie cannot be voted on again unless a council member who had voted in opposition requests reconsideration or the makeup of council changes following an election, officials have said.
None of those voting against the settlement in August — Edward Brominski, Kathy Dobash, Harry Haas, Eileen Sorokas or Stephen A. Urban — had a change of heart.
However, three new council members took office in January: Chris Perry, Sheila Saidman and Matthew Vough. McClosky Houck and Haas were re-elected, while prior council members Rick Williams, Sorokas and Dobash did not seek another term.
When the initial settlement was on the agenda in August, it was approved by Williams and four current council members: Eugene Kelleher, Tim McGinley, Robert Schnee and Jane Walsh Waitkus.
A new settlement vote was not discussed in the last council work session, but it has been listed on Tuesday’s council agenda for a vote.
Piazza’s federal suit is scheduled for jury trial April 9 before U.S. District Judge Robert D. Mariani in Scranton, court records show.
It is unclear if the latest proposed settlement is the same because the dollar amount was blank on Tuesday’s agenda submission. The administration has waited to present settlement amounts until voting meetings are underway.
As of August, the county had spent approximately $85,000 in legal fees on the Piazza litigation, and had to continue funding expenses until it met a $150,000 insurance deductible, Chief Solicitor Romilda Crocamo said at that time. A current tally was not immediately available Friday.
Acceptance of Piazza’s proposed settlement was recommended by the county’s outside legal counsel and administration to avoid the possibility of tens of thousands of dollars in additional legal fees for trial and potentially appeals.
Citizen Edward Chesnovitch had applauded the settlement’s defeat in August, describing the $56,000 payment as “outlandish.”
The most recent filings in the Piazza suit have involved efforts by both sides to block information from being presented at trial, records show.
Among the items the county wants to bar Piazza from presenting, according to court filings: Griffith’s 2013 plea agreement for allegedly recording two phone calls related to office matters and a closed-door executive session without permission of the parties involved; attorney-client communications other than those that former county manager Robert Lawton relied upon in his decision to terminate Piazza; and evidence of Piazza’s successor’s alleged failures to accomplish fair and proper elections.
Piazza asked the court to prevent the county from introducing evidence about the following: his prior employment and termination from an election position in DeKalb County, Georgia; his criminal charges related to alleged threats against state Rep. Aaron Kaufer’s office; and his application to the Social Security Administration for Social Security disability, records show.