Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ex-election head sues county, manager

Leonard Piazza alleges he lost his job because he wasn’t political pals with county controller.

June 26. 2013 1:48AM

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Luzerne County’s former election bureau director has filed a federal lawsuit against the county and Manager Robert Lawton, alleging he was terminated because he wasn’t politically affiliated with Controller Walter Griffith.

Leonard Piazza filed the suit through his attorney, Kimberly Borland, in federal court late Tuesday.

Piazza had been placed on administrative leave beginning April 5, 2012, apparently due to his decision to audit the campaign finance reports of county Controller Walter Griffith. Piazza was terminated six days later.

The suit requests more than $75,000 and that Piazza be reinstated as Luzerne County’s election bureau director.

If that doesn’t happen, the suit requests the county pay back pay, compensatory damages, interest, attorneys fees and that the county be prevented from taking “adverse employment actions” against Piazza because of his political affiliation.

According to the suit, as part of Piazza’s job duties, he did “make from time to time inquiries and field investigations with respect to reports and statements filed under (the election code) and with respect to alleged failures to file any report or statement required under the provisions of the (election code).”

The suit says Griffith had been “non-compliant” with campaign finance laws, including late filings and missing information on reports.

On March 30, 2012, the suit says, Piazza requested certain campaign finance information from Griffith. One day later, Griffith refused to comply with Piazza’s request and informed Lawton and county solicitors Vito DeLuca and Michael Butera.

The day Piazza was placed on leave, the suit says, he was “accused … of violating the civil rights of (Griffith).”

“(Lawton) had politically affiliated himself with (Griffith),” the lawsuit states, noting that no other information was brought up at the April 5 meeting.

The lawsuit states the Luzerne County Board of Election was not notified about the incident and not consulted about Piazza’s termination. The board is the only entity that can appoint bureau workers, the lawsuit states, while Lawton has the final say.

“Defendants were without authority under the Luzerne County Home Rule Charter to terminate (Piazza’s) employment,” the suit states. “Defendants did not have cause for the termination.”

The suit also notes the current election bureau director, Marisa Crispell-Barber, has “failed to perform the duties” of the job and the suit cites eight alleged instances. Crispell-Barber, the lawsuit states, has not been disciplined and if disciplinary action were taken, it would be by the election board.

Piazza was terminated because of his “lack of political affiliation” with Griffith and his “failure to forbear from performing his statutory duties with regard to (Griffith) as a political candidate,” according to the suit.

Piazza’s conduct, the lawsuit states, should be constitutionally protected and was a “substantial and motivating factor” in his termination.

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