According to some of you, the law is very clear. Northampton County Council Prez Ron Angle's decision to serve on Bangor's School Board violates the Home Rule Charter. The nerve of that guy, thinking he can represent the people who elect him. Never mind that Leonard Zito, before he morphed into a judge with magical powers and a black robe, concluded there is no conflict when a municipal official serves on County Council. He was only an insignificant lawyer back in those dark days, notes DA John Morganelli, himself an insignificant lawyer with his eyes on Zito's judgeship.
Ironically, there's one person who does not think the law is very clear at all. During a hearing yesterday afternoon, he complained of a "serious ambiguity" in the HRC provision that may (or may not) prohibit Council members from holding other elected offices. That person is Senior Judge Michael Franciosa, whose confusing, 21-page, opinion was the reason why everybody was in Court yesterday.
Judge Franciosa actually sided with Morganelli last Friday, and gave Angle just ten days to "cure" his violation, i.e. resign from the school board, or lose his seat on County Council. That was "very generous" of him, claimed DA Morganelli. But Brian Monahan, representing Angle, is demanding a stay, arguing that the Order is crafted in a way that renders Angle's appeal rights meaningless. He's right, too. There is simply no way that you could coax a Supreme Court Justice to hear this matter before Monday, when Franciosa's ticking time bomb explodes. They're too damn busy appearing at high school commencements this time of year, putting their robes to good use.
In fact, it is something of a miracle that Angle was able to get a hearing before Senior Judge Fanciosa as soon as yesterday. Originally, his hearing had been scheduled for Friday, just one day before he'd automatically lose his County Council seat. Angle was being boxed in.
During yesterday's hearing, Brian Monahan was allowed to introduce testimony from Council Clerk Frank Flisser and the Bulldog himself. Morganelli, who previously claimed to be interested in nothing more than upholding the law, fought vigorously against allowing Council's Clerk to make very clear that our DA has been a tad selective in his enforcement of this dual office prohibition. Flisser testified to two recent instances in which a borough Councilman and borough Mayor were allowed to serve on Council. They, like Morganelli, are Democrats. Flisser also testified that their positions on other bodies presented no conflicts.
Flissser also mentioned then Council Solicitor Leonard Zito's written opinion, determining that the dual office prohibition had no application to officials who accepted no salary. "I'd be surprised if they [the Supreme Court] considered that document as having any precedential value," huffed Franciosa to cheers from DA Morganelli. And he's right, too. That opinion has no precedential value. But then again, neither does Franciosa's. Outside of Northampton County, it's meaningless until the state Supremes sing about it themselves.
Monahan also called the Bulldog to establish that ousting Angle from Council would cause "irreparable injury." According to Angle, "The citizens of Region 4 would lose the strongest voice they ever had." Of course, Angle is boasting. But does anyone, even Angle's enemies, deny that he has been the Slate Belt's strongest voice in County government?
Angle also testified that no conflict has risen as a result of his holding a seat on Bangor's School Board, but he would recuse himself if anything like that ever cropped up. "If it happened, I would step down, even from the deliberations," he said.
Morganelli wisely declined an opportunity to cross-examine Angle. He instead argued that the citizens of Northampton County who voted for the HRC are being overlooked, but that assumes they interpret the dual office prohibiton exactly like him.
Morganelli then made an incredibly foolish and very undemocratic argument. He actually suggested that the Court direct Council that Angle's seat remain vacant until the Supreme Court rules on Angle's appeal. Yes, the same man trying to strip Angle of his office is all for denying due process to the remaining members of Council, stripping them of the right to have nine members and, best of all, disenfranchising Slate Belt voters.
Without commenting on Morganelli's strained argument, Franciosa gave Angle a gift on appeal. In the judge's own words, the dual office prohibition has a "serious ambiguity," and "there's an argument that can be made the other way." Franciosa went on to state that he used canons of statutory interpretation, instead of traditional grammar, to resolve this uncertainty. Well, if that's so, he has a problem on appeal. According to those canons, ambiguities are resolved in favor of the party against whom they are being enforced. It's kinda' like baseball. The tie always goes to the runner.
Add to that canon the quaint little idea that voters, not judges or DAs, should decide elections.
My guess is that Angle gets some form of stay and that, on appeal, he wins.
Monahan did a nifty little job of making a record, drawing out Morganelli's true colors, and getting Judge Franciosa to make a statement that virtually guarantees at least one winning argument.
Update 5:15 PM: When I left the Courthouse to attend a meeting in Bethlehem at 3:20 PM, the last thing I did was check to see if Judge Franciosa had entered a ruling on Angle's stay request. Nothing had come in.
The Morning Call is now reporting that Franciosa has denied the stay and barred him from participating on Council while simultaneously claiming that the official forfeiture is stayed.
Huh? Talk about ambiguous.
Franciosa also orders County Council, which never was a part of this action, to keep the seat open, effectively abrogating the very Home Rule Charter he was asked to interpret.