A former aide to ex-state House Speaker John M. Perzel arrested for concealing evidence in the “Computergate” scandal has lost his malicious prosecution case against the state officials who filed charges against him.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on Monday reversed a district judge’s decision not to toss the case. The Third Circuit held that former Gov. Tom Corbett, then the state attorney general, had probable case to file charges against John R. Zimmerman.
In Computergate, $10 million in taxpayer money was used to fund computer-assisted campaigning by Pennsylvania House Republicans from 2001 to 2007. Perzel, who cut deals with the data firm involved, pleaded guilty to eight felony charges and was sentenced to 30 months in prison.
Zimmerman was accused of hindering the state attorney general’s investigation into the scandal by contacting the House Republican Campaign Committee about hiding boxes of campaign materials under subpoena from the grand jury. Those charges were ultimately dropped and Zimmerman sued former Attorneys General Corbett, Linda L. Kelly and prosecutor Frank G. Fina, as well as other officials.
Zimmerman argued that although the calls to the HRCC came from his desk phone and featured a male voice, he did not make them. He also argued that anyone could have used his phone line and moved the boxes of evidence to Perzel’s office, Room 414 of the capitol.
However, the Third Circuit ruled that there was no evidence that prosecutors targeted him out of malice.
“While Zimmerman’s arguments may well have been sufficient to raise a reasonable doubt that would have resulted in an acquittal at trial, they do not negate the fact that appellants had probable cause to prosecute him,” Judge Theodore McKee wrote in the court’s opinion, which was joined by Judges Robert Cowen and Julio Fuentes.
“There is no dispute that Zimmerman was normally at his desk, that a male conspirator called from Zimmerman’s office desk phone line to tell the HRCC to expect a delivery of boxes of campaign material, or that boxes of campaign material were then moved to a location controlled by the HRCC,” McKee added. “Moreover, the fact that Perzel’s office consisted of several rooms, and there was ‘unfettered access to Room 414,’ does not negate the possibility that Zimmerman was the person who called the HRCC in an effort to conceal evidence.”
Mechanicsburg attorney Devon M. Jacob represents Zimmerman and did not return a call seeking comment. Nor did the lawyer for the defendants, Frank Lavery Jr. of Lavery Law in Harrisburg.
P.J. D’Annunzio can be contacted at 215-557-2315 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PJDannunzioTLI.