Source: Office of Attorney General is investigating claims of union wiretap

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | July 15th, 2016 12:01 am

Investigators from the state Office of Attorney General have obtained records and questioned several Luzerne County employees about an alleged union wiretap violation, according to a source who works for the county.

Former county human resources director Donna Davis Javitz reported the allegation and outlined the county’s failure to act on it in her pending suit against the county.

The suit, which also is filed against county Administrative Services Division Head David Parsnik and former county manager Robert Lawton, maintains her reporting of the alleged crime prompted county officials to exhibit a “pattern of antagonism” against her, unsuccessfully demand her resignation and ultimately fire her.

County lawyers dispute a connection between her reporting of an alleged crime and dismissal.

Davis Javitz said Thursday she was aware of the current state investigation and sought it because an independent review is warranted.

“As a citizen and a victim of a crime, I raised this issue, which should be of concern to county management and the county taxpayers,” Davis Javitz said.

She noted the Lawton administration “took the Walter Griffith illegal recording issue seriously.”

Griffith was elected county controller from 2010 until he stepped down in August 2013 as part of a plea agreement for illegally recording a retirement board executive session, a phone call with county pension fund officials and attorneys and another call with a board member of the nonprofit CityVest that owned the former Hotel Sterling property in Wilkes-Barre. He received three years of probation.

“My case is much more serious because there was a cover-up. The investigation was halted,” Davis Javitz alleged.

According to her lawsuit:

The county’s American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union filed an unfair labor claim with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board around March 2015 containing two exhibits of “verbatim notes” in transcript form of conversations that allegedly took place in two investigatory meetings Davis Javitz conducted with AFSCME representatives and union members present.

Davis Javitz said she and others who reviewed these exhibits concluded such verbatim notes could not have been compiled without audio recordings, and she did not grant permission for recording as required by law.

She and Parsnik met with county District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis and one of her staffers on March 20, 2015.

The district attorney said she would refer the case to the attorney general’s office for investigation due to a conflict.

Davis Javitz said she met with the district attorney about another matter in June 2015 and inquired about the attorney general’s investigation into the alleged union wiretap violation, and Salavantis told her Lawton came to her and said he did not want to pursue the investigation.

An Oct. 16 hearing on the unfair labor charge was set before the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, and Davis Javitz learned the hearing was cancelled because the union had reached a settlement with the county.

Davis Javitz said she appeared for a meeting with Parsnik Oct. 26 that was supposed to be about a Loudermill hearing for another county worker. A Loudermill hearing is a formal procedure used by public employers when employees face termination or suspension.

Instead, she said county Manager C. David Pedri, who was chief solicitor at that time, entered the office, and Parsnik told her to resign. She refused and said Pedri initially agreed she was entitled to a Loudermill hearing at her request but then “backed off that statement.”

She said Parsnik and Pedri did not provide any reasons for asking her to resign, despite her repeated requests for this information. Parsnik told her to “pack up her office.”

Parsnik has declined comment on the suit and termination, citing confidentiality of personnel matters and ongoing litigation.

The District Attorney’s Office subsequently referred the matter to the state.

Office of Attorney General spokesman Jeffrey A. Johnson in Harrisburg said the agency does not typically confirm, deny or discuss investigations unless they result in the filing of charges.

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.