A Philadelphia law firm is suing Lancaster County for unpaid legal fees resulting from a dispute in 2019 between county commissioners and former district attorney Craig Stedman.
Kleinbard LLC, which represented Stedman in a lawsuit that alleged the county’s top elected officials were violating his authority, is asking the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas to make the county pay $ 74,139.06 for his services .
At the time, commissioners said the county would not allow taxpayer dollars to be used to pay for Stedman’s legal representation. But Stedman submitted a bill to the county for his legal fees in December 2019, just before his term as prosecutor ended (he was elected in November as a county judge).
The lawsuit, filed Oct. 7, says county officials “have failed, refused and even blocked payment” for the invoice submitted by Stedman “(without) any authority or legal justification.”
Kleibard’s lawsuit also argues that, since the cabinet represented Stedman in his official capacity as district attorney, his successor, Heather Adams, was bound by the terms of the agreement and should have sought payment on Kleinbard’s behalf after his entry into office in January 2020.
Adams said she will not comment on the pending litigation.
Commissioner Craig Lehman declined to comment on the lawsuit and Commissioner Ray D’Agostino only said it was “disappointing”.
Commissioner Josh Parsons, who openly criticized Stedman’s leadership of the prosecutor’s office, said in a statement that the board was right to fight for transparency on how the money seized by the task force on drugs were being used.
âOur position has always been simple: citizens have the right to know where government money is going,â he said. “We should ask ourselves why we were attacked for just wanting citizens to know where the government money was going? This Council of Commissioners will always continue to defend good government, including in the face of attacks. “
Parsons said the pressure from commissioners for transparency was justified by Adams’ June 2020 announcement that $ 150,000 was missing from the task force coffers. She said an internal theft was likely to blame and that she is currently awaiting the results of an investigation by the state attorney general‘s office.
Asked Thursday if commissioners would pay Kleinbard, county attorney Jackie Pfursich said she could not comment on the pending litigation. In September, when Kleinbard took a first step towards filing a complaint, Pfursich said “the position (of the commissioners) on the matter has not changed.”
Kleinbard’s attorney, Mark Seiberling, did not return an appeal Thursday for comment, but in January 2020 he said if the county did not pay, the company “won’t have another choice than to take legal action against them to coerce them “.
In February 2019, LNP | LancasterOnline began reporting staff issues to the District Attorney’s Office under Stedman. The newspaper reported that Stedman suspended an attorney from his office, who at the time was campaigning for the district attorney, in what was described to LNP as politically motivated action. The county human resources department then reviewed the case and determined that the prosecutor’s suspension was “related to political campaign activities.”
In early March 2019, LNP also reported that Stedman had used more than $ 20,000 of the Drug Task Force money to rent a sport utility vehicle for himself outside of the county’s normal procurement process. Stedman also reimbursed himself for miles driven in the vehicle, which was owned by the government, although he reimbursed part of the reimbursement after being informed that LNP had requested records on the vehicle.
In response to LNP reports, county commissioners issued statements criticizing Stedman’s actions. The county’s human resources department also issued recommendations on how staffing issues in the prosecutor’s office should have been handled.
Following statements by the commissioners, Stedman hired Kleinbard and sued in Commonwealth Court, claiming the commissioners were interfering with his constitutional authority to run his office independently and that they were also attempting to inappropriately verify its use. drug confiscation funds.
Commissioners claimed they were simply exercising their First Amendment rights to comment on Stedman’s actions and had taken no action to block his use of drug confiscation funds. They also said they did not state it authoritatively on how to handle personnel issues.
The case was ultimately dismissed by the Commonwealth Court because judges ruled it was an inappropriate location for the case. Stedman, now a Common Pleas Judge, filed a new case in Lancaster County Common Plea Court in December 2019, shortly before taking his place on the bench. Her successor, District Attorney Heather Adams, ended the case when she took office in January 2020.
Commissioners approved the use of taxpayer funds to cover the $ 100,000 cost of their own outside representation in the case.
The attorney general’s office said it had no update on its investigation into the missing $ 150,000 of task force money.