A judge has dismissed summary charges against current and former Honesdale Borough Council members who had been convicted of violating the Sunshine Act.
The charges stemmed from an executive session council held in August 2013 to address "belittling misrepresentations" made against District Judge Ted Mikulak by borough police officers.
Specially presiding Judge Gregory H. Chelak of Pike County ruled this week that "in hindsight, it might not have been the best decision of the Council to attempt to address Judge Mikulak's complaint in an executive session, but the evidence presented does not sustain the Commonwealth's burden of proof ... and the criminal offenses are dismissed."
Council members said Thursday they felt vindicated with the decision.
"I'm thrilled," said President James Brennan.
He said he also was happy for his colleagues and that law-abiding public officials shouldn't be penalized for doing their jobs.
Council's appeal lawyer, Ronald Bugaj, said he was pleased the court has "restored the reputations of these fine individuals" who have been "run through the wringer" and "maligned" by the charges.
Councilman Harry DeVrieze said he was happy an "independent" judge came to the conclusion that the case had no merit.
Convicted were current council members Robert Jennings, Brennan, Scott Smith, Juanita Pisano and DeVrieze, and former members F.J. Monaghan and Samuel Mikulak, the district judge's brother.
The council members were found guilty of the summary offense in October 2013 after a private criminal complaint was filed by the then police officer in charge, Ronald Kominski.
The officer had accused council of violating the Sunshine Act, saying he was not notified of the closed-door meeting in which he was being discussed.
Contacted Thursday, Kominski said he did not know about the order. "It is what it is," he said.
Mikulak came to the Aug. 12, 2013, public meeting with a letter addressing his concerns about police officers belittling him.
Monaghan, after discussing the issue with solicitor Richard Henry, he decided to give Mikulak an executive session as long as the district judge didn't mention any of the names of the police officers.
Ed Langendoerfer, who was mayor at the time, had testified at an appeal hearing that he objected to Mikulak's letter being discussed because Kominski was not present at the session.
Testimony indicated the letter was never addressed because the session turned into a shouting match between the mayor and district judge.
Chelak's order says, "Although the letter contained the specific name of Officer Kominski, there was no evidence presented to establish anything more than the reading of the letter, Mayor Langendoerfer's objection to the executive session and Judge Mikulak's participation therein and the subsequent argument between Mayor Langendoerfer and Judge Mikulak in the executive session that resulted in Council President Monaghan quickly concluding that part of the executive session."
The order further states, "The undisputed evidence was that the council members did not comment on the letter during the executive session. The parties agreed that there was no 'Official action' taken during the executive session regarding Judge Mikulak's letter."
The Pike County judge also ruled that the "brief exchange" that occurred in regard to Mikulak's letter cannot be considered "deliberations" and therefore was not a violation of the Sunshine Act.
"We do note, however, that if the brief exchange had not ended and further discussion ensued, with or without the council members' involvement, it could have entered the realm of deliberations as defined under the Act," Chelak wrote.
Chelak agreed with Bugaj that the closed-door meeting was a fact-finding session rather than one involving deliberations.
Council members testified they had no prior knowledge of what was being discussed at the executive session and the only people who spoke during the closed meeting were the mayor, the district judge and Henry.
Updates to this story will be made later in the afternoon.