WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP)  - A civil lawsuit alleging Luzerne County Controller Walter L. Griffith Jr. violated the state wiretap law can proceed, according to a court order issued Thursday rejecting the county’s objections.
Senior Judge Charles C. Brown Jr. wrote in his decision he "is concerned about the consequence" of the county’s arguments to dismiss the county and Griffith as defendants in businessman Y. Judd Shoval’s civil suit.
The county argued the case should be dismissed because the county is not a person under the state Wiretapping Act and Griffith was not sued as an individual, but as a county official.
"If their reasoning prevails an employee of a county, and maybe other governmental entities, would not be liable for his/her violating the Wiretapping Act. This is unacceptable," Brown wrote.
Chief Solicitor David Pedri said he has not seen Brown’s order and will review the county’s options. The solicitor’s office will also begin representing the county in the Shoval case because insurance is not covering the cost of the litigation.
Elliott, Greenleaf & Dean, a firm with an office in Wilkes-Barre, had been representing the county and Griffith in the civil suit. The county has spent more than $5,100 on attorney bills defending the civil suit.
Shoval, chairman of the organization that tried to preserve the Hotel Sterling in Wilkes-Barre, did not specify an amount of alleged damages in his suit.
The state attorney general’s office charged Griffith on May 17 with illegally recording three conversations without the consent of at least eight people, including Shoval, arrest papers show. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for June 19.
Mark Bufalino, an attorney with the Elliott, Greenleaf & Dean, is representing Griffith in criminal proceedings. County funds have not been used to defend Griffith in the criminal case, Pedri said.