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Carbon hires legal counsel for battle on constitution

Published February 25. 2011 05:00PM

Carbon County officials are preparing for litigation that was filed against the county by a Jim Thorpe business owner earlier this month.

During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, the board voted to approve a proposal submitted by Robert L. Knupp of Knupp Law Offices LLC in Harrisburg to serve as special counsel for Carbon County and all parties named in the notice of appeal/petition for judicial review that was filed by Robert Dages, owner of Vision Stone Stoves and a member of the Carbon County Constitutionalists on Feb. 14.

Commissioner William O'Gurek, chairman, said that the board found out that the county's insurance carrier, PCoRP, which is provided through the County Commissioners' Association of Pennsylvania, would not cover the claim so they needed to find representation to represent the county during the argument court session on May 16 in front of Carbon County Judge Steve Serfass.

"We needed to get prepared legally with someone who knows the Right to Know Act," O'Gurek said, adding that they couldn't have county solicitor Michael Ozalas represent them because he is a party in the case as a witness.

The county will pay Knupp Law Offices $195 an hour for attorney services and $125 for paralegal services.

The action stems from the petition that Dages filed against the county because he felt the commissioners were not answering his questions about the constitutionality of the Packerton Yards Business Park project.

According to the petition, which names Dages as the appellant/petitioner and Carbon County as the appellee/respondent, Dages is asking that the commissioners answer the question, "What is the alleged specific constitutional provisions/authority in the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the alleged 'case law' upon which the Carbon County Commissioners rely for Carbon County and its Commissioners to purchase and develop any private property (specifically here the Packerton Business Park Project) and to use public funds for these purposes in direct competition with private business owners and/or developers?"

The question was posed in May 2010, and O'Gurek responded, citing case law. Dages asked for the case law and O'Gurek responded that it was privileged because of attorney/client privilege.

Dages filed an appeal with the county Open Records officer and the appeal was denied because it was determined the information was protected under attorney/client privilege.

Dages then filed an appeal in the Office of Open Records in Harrisburg. Again, his request was denied because it was determined that the information is protected under attorney/client privilege.

The county purchased the 59-acre Packerton Yards site in Mahoning Township and Lehighton in 2005 with the plans to industrialize the site and bring around 300 jobs to the area. Commissioner Wayne Nothstein voted against the project.

Since then, the board has secured millions in state and federal grants to develop the land.

Dages feels that the Packerton Yards project is not Constitutional because, he says, the county is directly competing with private enterprises.

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