By CHRIS PARKER
A Nesquehoning man who has ruffled the feathers of several Panther Valley School Board members has filed a federal lawsuit against them, saying they violated his Constitutional rights by removing and banishing him from public meetings.
In his suit, filed April 5 in U.S. District Court, Scranton, John Barna names the school board, and directors Koreen Nalesnik, Anthony DeMarco, David Hiles, William Hunsicker, president Jeffrey Markovich and former directors Donna Trimmel and Anthony Pondish.
Markovich declined to comment, except to say that "it's in the hands of our attorney."
The 10-page suit was filed by Barna's lawyer, Gary D. Marchalk of Tamaqua. It claims that the defendants "deprived (Barna) of rights secured under the Constitution and laws of the United States, retaliating against (Barna) for his exercise of Constitutionally protected speech; and for refusing or neglecting to prevent such deprivations and denials" to Barna.
It asks for undetermined damages and compensation for legal fees. The suit also asks the court to prevent the board from stopping Barna or others from attending and speaking at public meetings.
In his suit, Barna details a time line of events:
*On April 8, 2010, he asked the board about various financial matters, and said his friends had similar concerns. According to the suit, Markovich told Barna to invite his friends to a public meeting to speak. Barna responded that "they carry guns, you wouldn't want that."
According to the suit, several board members laughed, and Markovich said "Aah, well, I'll wear my bulletproof vest."
*On April 22, 2010, Barna attended a public board meeting, but was asked to leave by Markovich, based on the exchange of the April 8 meeting. According to the suit, Markovich said Barna's comments "could have been taken as a threat, and until it can be clarified, I have to ask Mr. Barna to leave."
Barna tried to explain himself, saying that he had been joking, the suit says. Markovich eventually had Barna escorted out by a security guard.
As he was leaving, Barna, in response to commentary from audience members, said he "might come after all of them." According to the suit, Barna was joking. The suit claims that the board used the statement as a pretense to claim a threat to the school board.
*On April 27, 2010, Barna received a letter from schools Superintendent Rosemary Porembo, on behalf of the board, stating that he would be barred from public meetings if he used threats.
*On Oct. 21, 2011, after having attended board meetings between April and September 2010, Barna received a letter from school district solicitor Robert T. Yurchak, barring Barna from school district property and meetings. The letter did not mention any specific incidents, but, according to the suit, stated that Barna had become "intolerable, threatening and obnoxious" and promised that if he were found on school district property, he would be "prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
The suit claims Barna did not directly or indirectly threaten the board, and that the board's claims of threats are a pretext to bar him from meetings. The suit claims that Barna's comments "caused no more disruption overall than any discussion of school district business in which disparate substantive positions may exist."