PHILADELPHIA (CN) – A former staffer of the Pennsylvania Legislature who ducked criminal charges in connection to the state’s 2009 Computergate scandal failed Monday to sustain malicious-prosecution claims at the Third Circuit.
Tossing the case in a 9-page opinion, the Philadelphia-based U.S. Court of Appeal found that prosecutors had probable cause to pursue John Zimmerman, a onetime staffer for Rep. John Perzel.
Having served the records keeper for the House Republicans Caucus, Zimmerman was one of nine of Perzel’s staff members arrested in the Computergate investigation, which involved politicians using state funds and sophisticated computers for political campaigning purposes.
Though prosecutors accused Zimmerman of trying to hide boxes of campaign materials from a grand jury subpoena, the charges were dropped in 2011.
Perzel, a Republican who had represented the state’s 172nd District and served briefly as speaker of the state House, meanwhile pleaded guilty that year and caught a 30-month sentence in 2012.
In 2013, Zimmerman brought a federal complaint that painted his prosecution as an abuse of his rights under the Fourth and 14th Amendment.
Tom Corbett, who served both as the attorney general and governor of Pennsylvania, was one of several current and former top state officials who appealed Zimmerman’s case to the Third Circuit this year after a federal judge denied them judgment on the pleadings.
Zimmerman accused the prosecutors of manufacturing witness testimony, destroying exculpatory evidence and padding their case with misleading statements.
For the Third Circuit, however, such claims fail insufficient to sustain the case.
“Even assuming that Zimmerman’s allegations are true, appellants still had probable cause to prosecute Zimmerman for concealing or destroying the evidence that was the subject of the grand jury subpoena,” U.S. Circuit Judge Theodore McKee wrote for the court.
The state argued that a male conspirator had telephoned the House Republican Campaign Committee from Zimmerman’s office desk to move the boxes of campaign materials to the committee’s headquarters.
They also noted that Zimmerman was usually at his desk, though Zimmerman had countered that others often had access to and used his phone, and that he was not present when the boxes were physically moved.
Zimmerman also accused prosecutors of withholding from the grand jury the fact that Zimmerman’s phone line could be accessed on the telephone used by Perzel’s receptionist, and likely other telephones in the office. Other evidence withheld from the jury suggested that another staffer had made the call due to notations in a messenger log.
McKee wrote Monday that the evidence against Zimmerman may have been too flimsy to result in a criminal conviction but was still grounded in probable cause.
The judge called it uncontested that a male staffer had used Zimmerman’s phone to make the call to move the boxes, which was enough to pursue charges.
“Even assuming that Zimmerman’s allegations are true, appellants still had probable cause to prosecute Zimmerman for concealing or destroying the evidence that was the subject of the grand jury subpoena,” McKee wrote.
Another target of the Computergate investigation to cry foul over his prosecution is former lawmaker Brett Feese, who was convicted of 40 charges in 2011 and sentenced to as many as 12 years behind bars.
Feese claimed in a June 2013 complaint against Corbett and 14 other state officials that Democratic lawmakers had destroyed exculpatory evidence during the investigation.
Zimmerman’s attorney Devon Jacob has not returned a call and email seeking comment.
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