(CN) – A Pennsylvania federal judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit that accuses an incoming pair of Democratic county commissioners of firing a public defender because he supported their Republican opponents.
Craig Kalinoski claimed the commissioners violated the First Amendment by firing him either because of his status as a Republican or to make room in the Lackawanna County Office of the Public Defender for a Democratic lawyer to whom they had ties.
Last week, U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo rejected a motion for summary judgment by Lakawanna County and County Commissioners Michael Wancho and Corey O’Brien.
The defendants had claimed they deserved legislative immunity and that Kalinoski had failed to properly plead the charge of unconstitutional political patronage.
Caputo, sitting in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., said absolute immunity would hold if Kalinoski had been fired as the result of a departmentwide policy change.
Though Kalinoski was fired during a departmental reorganization, however, there is enough evidence to allege that the officials did not follow the “statutory procedures specified for such an action,” according to the court. Caputo agreed that the legislators opened themselves to liability by forming a team to make firing recommendations.
Kalinoski also made strong-enough allegations at this stage to hold the defendants liable for a First Amendment violation, according to the 20-page ruling.
The lawyer showed that he engaged in constitutionally protected conduct by supporting the Republican Party, and that this conduct might have been a substantial or motivating factor for his termination. Since Kalinoski said the commissioners knew about his political affiliation, he meets the three-part test for discrimination set by Galli v. New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.