When John McGee became suspicious that one of his township supervisors was stealing money, he filed for Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Act to obtain the payroll records of this official.
In return, this Conyngham Township supervisor, Linda Tarlecki, sent McGee a request requesting her personal business records.
Tarlecki’s claim was legally unenforceable.
McGee’s suspicions were confirmed when state police charged Tarlecki with stealing more than $ 180,000 from the Columbia County Municipality and forging public documents.
Now Tarlecki is awaiting trial and McGee is a township supervisor.
And on Thursday, a federal court breathed new life into a lawsuit McGee has brought against the township.
McGee sued the township and its former supervisory board over Tarlecki’s request for his personal records. He claimed that this request amounted to retaliation for his RTKL case concerning the Tarlecki cases and thus violated his constitutional rights.
A United States Intermediate District Court judge dismissed the action, but it was reactivated by a United States Court of Appeals panel for the 3rd Circuit via an opinion from Circuit Judge Kent A. Jordan .
As Jordan noted, Tarlecki sent McGee the request for his personal records after requesting a list of his time records, payment records, daily schedules, and expense reimbursements. These elements are common knowledge.
Tarlecki admitted that she knew her request to McGee was not valid, but that she did it because she “was tired of taking away his right to know every time I was out of the box. office, ”Jordan wrote. He noted that Tarlecki filed McGee’s information request under the township and authority name and formatted it as an RTKL request.
When McGee went to a supervisors meeting and asked why they were looking for his personal business records, “they refused to explain,” the circuit judge noted. Jordan wrote that Tarlecki also sent a reporter a request for information about conversations the reporter had with McGee.
McGee sued the township at Tarlecki’s request. He then overthrew Tarlecki by leading a writing campaign for the Supervisor in 2017. State Police arrested Tarlecki two years later.
By re-launching McGee’s lawsuit and sending her back to the lower court, Jordan concluded that a jury should be allowed to rule on McGee’s civil rights claim. It would not be unreasonable to conclude that Tarlecki was attempting to intimidate McGee, the judge concluded.
“When ordinary people with no legal training receive a request from a government agency to file tax returns and evidence supporting their business activities, a natural reaction is a certain degree of apprehension and defensiveness,” Jordan wrote. “Such a concern makes sense because the transaction costs of handling a government investigation are never zero. “
“This kind of threat appears to be precisely what Tarlecki wanted to convey to prevent McGee from digging into the township’s use of taxpayer resources. A reasonable jury could conclude that she wanted McGee to think twice before she said or did anything that might displease township officials, ”Jordan found.