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Man, 75, found guilty of causing disturbance at public meeting

  • TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS Walter Zlomsowitch of East Penn Township prepares to enter the office of District Judge Bruce Appleton of Palmerton Thursday morning for a preliminary hearing. Zlomsowitch was found guilty on one charge of disorderly conduct.
    TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS Walter Zlomsowitch of East Penn Township prepares to enter the office of District Judge Bruce Appleton of Palmerton Thursday morning for a preliminary hearing. Zlomsowitch was found guilty on one charge of disorderly conduct.
Published April 03. 2010 09:00AM

An East Penn Township man who had to be escorted out of a public meeting after he questioned financial matters has been found guilty of causing a disturbance.

Walter Zlomsowitch, 75, of 2001 Ben Salem Road, Andreas, was charged with one count of disorderly conduct during a preliminary hearing Thursday before District Judge Bruce Appleton of Palmerton.

However, Appleton told Zlomsowitch he won't face any criminal penalties or fines associated with the charge as long as he doesn't have any more outbursts at public meetings within the next 90 days.

The incident occurred at 5:45 p.m. on Feb. 1, after Zlomsowitch said the township forfeited a $62,000 grant, at which time he was removed from the meeting by a police officer who was in attendance.

The money Zlomsowitch referred to was for Eidem Road, and had to be forfeited because grants have a time limitation and the money was not spent within the limit.

Zlomsowitch was then removed for disrupting a public meeting after being advised to stop his actions on several occasions, according to township police officer Al Beischline, who cited him for disorderly conduct.

During the hearing, the prosecution called East Penn Township board of supervisors Chairman Herb Truhe as its first witness.

Truhe said Zlomsowitch was offered the chance to speak during the public comment portion at the beginning of the meeting.

Later on, Truhe asked to speak under courtesy of the floor, at which point he began to speak about issues raised in the township.

That's when Truhe said Zlomsowitch interrupted him, which prompted Truhe to gavel him. Truhe then tried to talk again, but he said Zlomsowitch again interrupted him, which resulted in a second gaveling.

After a third interruption, Truhe said he gaveled Zlomsowitch a third time and asked Beischline to remove him from the meeting.

As Zlomsowitch was being escorted out, Truhe said Zlomsowitch continued to make comments toward him.

"I heard him make the comment that he's not going anywhere," Truhe said. "He then came in front of me making more comments."

Next, the prosecution called township Supervisor Jacob Nothstein as its second witness.

Nothstein, who serves as vice chairman of the board, gave the same account as Truhe.

The prosecution then called township Supervisor Cory Smith as its third and final witness.

Much like Nothstein and Truhe before him, Smith gave practically the same testimony.

Afterward, Appleton denied a motion made by the defendant to dismiss the charge of disorderly conduct against Zlomsowitch.

As its first witness, the defense called Zlomsowitch to testify.

Zlomsowitch said he made a couple of comments about why he felt qualified people were dismissed from various boards in the township after he said Truhe directed his comments toward him.

"Mr. Truhe engaged me personally in the conversation, after I tried to answer some of his questions," Zlomsowitch said. "The next thing I knew, I was being escorted out of the meeting."

The defense then showed a video recording of the incident obtained by resident Joe Ehritz, who routinely video records township meetings.

The prosecution then asked that the video not be shown because changes could have been made to alter it from its original taping.

Appleton denied that request, and instead took a brief recess to allow both parties to review the video.

The defense then asked Zlomsowitch if, in fact, he felt Truhe addressed him personally throughout the video.

"I would say he was addressing me personally," Zlomsowitch said. "I was trying to ask why the township refused [the money] to blacktop Eidem Road.

Appleton then asked for closing arguments, before he prepared to make his decision.

Prior to his ruling, Appleton told Zlomsowitch that is was no doubt his right under the First Amendment to speak during a public meeting.

Appleton then referred to the Pennsylvania Sunshine Law, as well as Robert's Rules of Order, as the basis behind his decision to charge Zlomsowitch.

"Roberts Rules of Order dictate that when one person has the floor, that person be granted the ability to speak without being hindered," Appleton said. "You were given the opportunity to speak, and when Mr. Truhe then asked to have courtesy of the floor without interruption, that didn't happen."

Appleton then told Zlomsowitch that while it was his right as a citizen to speak at a public meeting, he should not have interjected if he didn't have the floor.

"You have every right to express your opinion," Appleton said. "But, you have to watch how you do that."

Appleton then asked Zlomsowitch if his actions on that particular day served to solve anything, to which Zlomsowitch replied.

"My comment might be, 'not yet'", Zlomsowitch said.

Appleton then asked Zlomsowitch if he will choose to handle things in the proper order and fashion in the future, to which Zlomsowitch said he would attempt to.

Zlomsowitch's attorney plans to appeal the guilty ruling.

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