The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 23, 2013

$420 legal bill leads to Clausi-Shoch clash

By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item

SUNBURY —  Sparks flew as the three Northumberland County commissioners bickered Tuesday about a $420 bill from a Sunbury law firm.

Commissioner Vinny Clausi accused Commissioner Rick Shoch of spending taxpayer dollars on attorney fees because of a personal vendetta against him.

Commissioner Steve Bridy agreed that Shoch has a vendetta, and claimed the only reason Shoch asked an outside attorney instead of the county solicitors for the information was because a member of the firm donated to Shoch’s campaign for commissioner.

Shoch denied the charges, saying he went to the firm of Apfelbaum, Apfelbaum & Apfelbaum, of Sunbury, because the firm represents the county in a lawsuit filed against the county by two former deputies in the sheriff’s office.

Clausi said Shoch met with members of the firm to review transcripts and prepare for a public meeting of the commissioners so Shoch could claim that Clausi’s public statements had led to the lawsuit.

Clausi said that if Shoch wanted to see the transcripts of the lawsuit he could have had the county solicitor get them for free or at a lower cost than $420.

Clausi made a motion to send the $420 bill to Shoch, saying he believed the only reason Shoch was interested in the lawsuit was because Shoch was on a one-year witch hunt to get him.

Shoch denied the accusation and said the reason he went to the Apfelbaum firm was because the firm was handling the lawsuit.

There was no vote on the motion to have Shoch pay the bill.

Sheriff deputies Michael Boris and Joseph Jones, both of Mount Carmel, filed the lawsuit after they were fired for violating the department’s computer policy by failing to secure their passwords, and it was determined pornography had been viewed on the computers assigned to them.

In March 2012, an arbitrator ruled that Northumberland County had the right to fire the two after the pornography was discovered.

Clausi was vocal about the firings and he said wanted the public to know what was going on behind closed doors.

Shoch has said Clausi’s actions involve the county in lawsuits, and in November, Shoch released a series of documents and emails claiming it was because of Clausi that the county is facing legal issues relating to the Boris and Jones lawsuit, a controversial 911 upgrade project and the repayment of $215,000 allegedly owed to the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

Shoch refused to vote for the 2013 budget unless Clausi put several million dollars in escrow to cover what Shoch said could be judgments against county government. Clausi has defended his actions.

The budget passed 2-1 in December with Shoch in dissent.

Shoch said he has every right to speak with outside counsel as a county commissioner while he is working for taxpayers and he would be speaking to the firm about the charges that were incurred.

Attorney Michael Apfelbaum said: “I am pleased to meet with any county commissioner at any time, and we have an open door policy with commissioners because we are handling litigation for the county.”

Shoch said he was within his rights as a commissioner to incur reasonable charges when reviewing possible lawsuits that could impact residents.

Shoch said as a county commissioner it is his duty to look into matters that could potentially cost taxpayers money.

Bridy accused Shoch of visiting the law firm because Michael Apfelbaum had donated $300 to Shoch’s campaign in 2011.

“We know how this works,” Bridy said. “You always repay the people who donate to you.”

Shoch said the allegation was absurd.