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Craig Kalinoski v. Lackawanna County

September 12, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo


Presently before the Court is a motion for summary judgment brought by Defendants Lackawanna County, Corey O'Brien, and Michael Washo (Doc. 36). Because there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether Defendants' termination of Plaintiff was procedurally legislative, whether Defendants engaged in unconstitutional political patronage, and whether Defendants acted with reckless indifference to Plaintiff's constitutional rights, summary judgment will be denied.

I. Background

A. Kalinoski's Employment with the Office of the Public Defender Craig Kalinoski is a former Assistant Public Defender in the Office of the Public Defender ("OPD") in Lackawanna County ("the County"). (Def. Stmt. ¶1.) Kalinoski obtained his JD from Widener University School of Law in 2003. (Def. Ex. E at 2.) While in law school, Kalinoski worked as an extern at the OPD. (Pl. Stmt. ¶ 3.) In approximately February of 2004, Kalinoski learned via "word of mouth" that there were full-time public defender positions open at the OPD. (Def. Stmt. ¶ 4.) Between January 6 and 27, 2004, eleven Lackawanna County public defenders had been terminated. (Def. Ex. B at 145, 160-62; Ex. C at 34-43; Ex. D.)

Kalinoski interviewed with John Cerra, the new Chief Public Defender at the time, and Robert Cordaro, the County Commissioner at the time, and was offered a position with the OPD. (Def. Ex. A at 19-20.) After meeting with Cordaro and accepting the job, Kalinoski filled out an application for "paperwork purposes." (Pl. Stmt. ¶ 5.) On that application, Kalinoski listed as his references a Republican judge and an employee of a former Republican Senator. (Def. Stmt. ¶ 6.) At the time he was hired, Kalinoski was a registered Republican. (Def. Stmt. ¶ 11.)

Kalinoski began working at the OPD on March 22, 2004. (Def. Ex. A at 17:20-21.) Former Chief Public Defender Cerra characterized Kalinoski's job performance as "excellent." (Pl. Stmt. ¶ 1(a).) During his time at the OPD, Kalinoski tried two jury trials. (Pl. Stmt. ¶ 9.) In general, there are not many criminal trials in Lackawanna County. (Pl. Stmt. ¶ 9.) While working full time at the OPD, Kalinoski also maintained a private practice. (Def. Stmt. ¶¶ 7-8.) Kalinoski testified that his job at OPD was his priority during work hours. (Pl. Stmt. ¶ 8.) Several of the current Assistant Public Defenders, including Joseph McGraw, also maintain private practices. (Pl. Ex. 12 at 30:6-36:24.)

B. 2007 County Commissioner Election and Administration Change

In 2007, there was a Lackawanna County election for the office of County Commissioner. (Def. Stmt. ¶ 13.) Cordaro and A.J. Munchak, the incumbent Republican Commissioners, ran to retain their positions. (Id.) Kalinoski supported Cordaro and Munchak in the election, though he did not get involved in the campaign. (Def. Stmt. ¶ 14.) Kalinoski met Corey O'Brien and Michael Washo, the Democratic candidates, at a fundraiser for state Representative Frank Andrews Shimkus (at that time, a Democrat). (Def. Stmt. ¶ 16; Pl. Ex. 8 at 63:13-21.) Kalinoski's wife at the time, Jessica, worked for Representative Shimkus and supported the Democratic candidates for County Commissioner. (Def. Stmt. ¶ 15; Pl. Ex. 8 at 63:13-21.) O'Brien and Washo both spoke with Kalinoski about the OPD. (Pl. Stmt. ¶ 14.) Kalinoski testifies that O'Brien and Washo then asked Kalinoski to support their campaign ("the Washo-O'Brien Campaign"), but he advised them that he supported the Republican ticket. (Id.) Defendants admit to meeting Kalinoski, but deny asking him for political support or learning his political affiliation.

O'Brien and Washo won the election, and shortly thereafter, they began investigating the operations of various county offices and departments. (Def. Stmt. ¶ 19.) In particular, O'Brien and Washo heard complaints about the OPD. (Def. Stmt. ¶ 22.) They created a Courthouse Transition Team ("the Transition Team") to investigate and make recommendations about the organization and structure of the office. (Def. Stmt. ¶ 25.) The Transition Team consisted of Gerard Karam, former Chief Public Defender until January 2004; Bob Munley, who worked at the OPD under Karam; attorney Chris Munley; and attorney Jeff Nepa. (Def. Stmt. ¶ 26.) All members of the Transition Team had been financial contributors to the Washo-O'Brien Campaign. (Pl. Stmt. ¶ 26.)

Washo testified that judges in the Common Pleas Court of Lackawanna County made him aware of a "total breakdown in the administration of justice" and "a totally chaotic condition" in the OPD. (Pl. Stmt. ¶ 1(d).) Karam met with several Lackawanna County judges about restructuring the OPD, and testified that Judge Barasse had complained to him that the public defenders were not at the courthouse during business hours, were not working full time, did not have enough experience, and did not try enough cases. (Def. Stmt. ¶ 27; Def. Ex. G at 47.)

The Transition Team e-mailed recommendations for restructuring the OPD to O'Brien and Washo on December 12, 2007. (Pl. Stmt. ¶ 33.) O'Brien and Washo accepted the recommendations, but continued to discuss specifics regarding choosing candidates for particular positions. (Def. Stmt. ¶ 26.) At the beginning of O'Brien's and Washo's transition into office, O'Brien created a document called "The Washo O'Brien Hiring Chart."(Pl. Stmt. ¶ 20(a).) O'Brien updated the document throughout the transition process. (Id.) The chart listed various appointments and terminations for positions throughout the county. (Id.) A version of the chart was e-mailed by O'Brien to a budget director on January 13, 2008. (Id.)

C. Kalinoski's Termination

On January 4, 2008, Defendants placed an advertisement in the classifieds section of a local newspaper, seeking applicants for public defender positions at the OPD. (Def. Stmt. ¶ 37.) The ad set a deadline of January 14, 2008 for the receipt of applications. (Id.) Kalinoski saw the ad in the paper and contacted attorney Larry Moran, who he had heard might be the next Chief Public Defender and would be making hiring decisions. (Def. Stmt. ¶¶ 39-40.) Kalinoski then submitted a cover letter and a resume expressing an interest in two of the full-time public defender positions. (Def. Stmt. ¶ 42.) Kalinoski was never contacted about his application. (Pl. Ex. 8 at 71:10.) Eventually, Sidney Prejean, the newly appointed Chief Public Defender, called Kalinoski into his office and told Kalinoski that he was terminated. (Pl. Stmt. ¶ 42.)

During the hiring process, O'Brien did not interview any of the public defender candidates and did not review their written application materials. (Pl. Ex. 11 at 59:22-60:12.) The Transition Team also did not conduct any interview of the candidates, but Karam reviewed the written materials. (Pl. Ex. 9 at 66:6-11; Def. Ex. G at 61:22-62:7.) O'Brien and Washo attended one meeting with the Transition Team to go over their recommendations, some time after January 7, 2008. (Def. Ex. I at 46:23-48:1.) O'Brien and Washo made the final decision regarding who to hire and terminate in the OPD. (Def. Stmt. ¶ 56.)

The Transition Team discussed Kalinoski at the meeting with O'Brien and Washo. (Def. Stmt. ¶¶ 49-53.) O'Brien's handwritten notes from that meeting have the name "Frank Andrews" next to Kalinoski's name. (Pl. Stmt. ¶ 41.) O'Brien testified that he believed that note was a reference to the fact that Kalinoski had received a recommendation from Representative Shimkus (who was also known as Frank Andrews); Kalinoski denies contacting the representative for a recommendation. (Def. Ex. I at 95-96; Pl. Stmt. ¶ 41.) During the meeting, Karam conveyed that Judge Barasse's only comment regarding Kalinoski was that he conflicted out of too many cases. (Def. Stmt. ¶ 30.) Karam additionally recalled sharing at the meeting that Nepa had previously had two interactions with Kalinoski that Nepa thought reflected negatively on Kalinoski's character. (Def. Stmt. ¶ 52.) Finally, at the meeting, Karam and attorney Larry Moran discussed a prior civil case that they did not feel that Kalinoski handled appropriately. (Def. Stmt. ¶ 53.)

Neither the County, O'Brien, nor Washo consulted with Cerra regarding Kalinoski's job performance prior to terminating Kalinoski. (Pl. Stmt. ¶ 1(a).) Washo testified that he was unaware of any specific performance deficiencies on the part of Kalinoski. (Pl. Stmt. ¶ 1(d).) Karam testified that the Transition Team did not recommend that anyone be terminated. (Pl. Stmt. ¶ 22.)

D. Defendants' Other Hiring Decisions

O'Brien and Washo did not terminate everyone who had worked at the OPD under the previous administration. (Pl. Stmt. ¶ 11.) They retained Assistant Public Defender Jody Kalinowski, for example. (Id.)Additionally, they retained at least one employee who had been involved in the Cordaro-Munchak campaign. (Def. Stmt. ¶ 21.)

One of the new candidates hired was Joseph McGraw, who had graduated from law school in May 2006 and been a licensed attorney for approximately fifteen months. (Pl. Stmt. ¶ 45(i).) McGraw was recommended by Nepa as well as Chris and Bob Munley. (Def. Ex. G at 76:14-24.) McGraw had previously worked with Chris Munley; Bob Munley and Nepa had worked with McGraw's family members. (Pl. Stmt. ¶ 45(a)-(c)). McGraw had met O'Brien and Washo in the summer of 2007 when Chris Munley invited McGraw to come to his office and meet them. (Pl. Stmt. ¶ ...

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