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Panther Valley rejects proposed settlement on John Barna lawsuit

Published December 07. 2012 05:04PM

Panther Valley school board on Thursday rejected its insurance carrier's proposed settlement of a lawsuit filed against the board by a Nesquehoning man, and is looking for a new company.

School directors David Hiles; Anthony DeMarco; Michelle Markovich; Richard Zabroski; Koreen Nalesnik and board President Jeff Markovich voted thumbs down on the proposal. Irene Genther opposed rejecting the settlement, and Roy Angst said he would not vote.

The matter concerns John Barna, who filed a federal lawsuit on April 5 in U.S. District Court, Scranton, against the school board, and Nalesnik, DeMarco, Hiles, Hunsicker, and Jeff Markovich, and former directors Donna Trimmel and Anthony Pondish.

The agenda item revealed no information about the proposed settlement other than the name of the carrier, The Netherlands Insurance Company, and the claim number.

Genther and Angst, who is a longtime supporter of Barna, both demanded that more information be released.

"I don't know what this is all about," Genther said. "I have not been informed. I have not been included in any of the discussions, and I truly resent that."

Jeff Markovich said it was "about the John Barna case litigation, and that's all I can say."

Angst asked what the settlement amount was.

"If it's a reasonable amount, I don't want to refuse it. If it's an excessive amount, I do," he said.

Jeff Markovich explained he could not release details because the matter is still in litigation.

Angst was not appeased.

"I think that's the wrong answer," he said. "I think we have an absolute obligation that we should know and the public should know what are we talking about," he said.

Michelle Markovich explained to Angst that the board's attorney advised them to not discuss the case publicly due to "attorney-client privilege."

In his suit, Barna argues that his civil rights were violated when the board in Oct. 2011 barred him from school district property, including attending public school board meetings. Barna's ouster followed several flare-ups between him and board members. The verbal scuffles prompted police presence on more than one occasion. Board members contend Barna threatened them.

According to the suit, when Markovich told Barna to invite his friends to a public meeting to speak, Barna responded that "they carry guns, you wouldn't want that."

Barna's 10-page suit 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.

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