Meeting ejection brings lawsuit
The widow of an East Penn Township resident who was ejected from a supervisors' meeting has filed a lawsuit on behalf of her husband against the township, a specific supervisor, and a police officer.
Carol K. Zlomsowitch, administrator of the estate of Walter J. Zlomsowitch, is seeking a jury trial and unspecified damages for the action during which her late husband not only was ejected, but arrested. The charges against him were eventually dropped, the suit says.
She filed the four-count lawsuit against Alvin W. Beishline Jr., a police officer; Herb Truhe, who was chairman of the board of supervisors during the alleged incident, and East Penn Township.
The action was filed in the U.S. District Court, Middle District, Scranton, on Wednesday by attorney Kelly A. Bray of the Dyllar Law Firm, Wilkes-Barre.
Mrs. Zlomsowitch is seeking amounts to be determined at trial, including punitive damages, interest, the plaintiff's attorneys' fees, and costs.
Walter Zlomsowitch died on Nov. 30, 2010, at the age of 75.
The four counts in the suit are:
• Count 1 - Violation of Walter's First Amendment rights.
• Count 2 - Malicious prosecution.
• Count 3 - Permitting a police officer to violate the constitutional rights of citizens.
• County 4 - Abuse of process.
Besides being chairman of the board, Truhe was also police administrator and liaison supervisor of the East Penn Township Police Department, according to the court papers that were filed.
Mrs. Zlomsowitch says in the legal proceedings that her husband had "faithfully attended all public meetings involving East Penn Township since 1997."
She said that during meetings leading up to his removal from a public meeting on Feb. 1, 2010, Walter had "continually questioned a $62,000 grant to blacktop Eidem Road," which adjoins Truhe's property.
At the Feb. 1 meeting, after Walter questioned the grant, Truhe allegedly stated to him, "Walter, that's it, out," the court record states.
Sergeant Beishline then escorted Walter from the meeting. The complaint by Mrs. Zlomsowitch stated Beishline apologized to her husband for removing him from the meeting.
"By having police officers present at the public meeting and ejecting the deceased, Truhe was trying to create an atmosphere in which people are afraid to speak at supervisors meetings," says Mrs. Zlomsowitch in the lawsuit.
"At all times, the deceased acted lawfully and did not engage in illegal activity," she adds. "Questioning a township's financial matters is speech protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution."
The suit continues that on Feb. 4, 2010, Walter received a citation by certified mail charging him with disorderly conduct at the meeting. He faced a penalty of up to 90 days in prison and a $300 fine if convicted.
She says her husband pled not guilty, engaged a lawyer, and paid legal fees. At a hearing on April 1, 2010, in front of a District Judge, Walter was found guilty. He appealed the verdict and the case was forwarded to Carbon County Court.
On Oct. 7, 2010, the charges against Walter were withdrawn, says Mrs. Zlomsowitch.
She states in the complaint filed in U.S. District Court, "The deceased passed away on Nov. 30, 2010. The deceased was forced to fight the baseless charges during the last months of his life."
She adds, "Upon information and belief, the defendants conspired with one another to commit the above acts or omissions and acted overtly in furtherance of that conspiracy."
She alleges that Truhe directed the charge be filed against Walter.
"Upon information and belief, East Penn Township's policies and/or customs pertaining to questioning financial matters and spending within the township, through defendant Truhe's own actions and through defendant Truhe's instructions to others, is to retaliate against any individual who exercises his First Amendment speech rights," she said.