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GOP Demands Resignations Over West Goshen Employee’s Death

The suicide of a West Goshen municipal worker amid allegations of abuse at the hands of his manager has led to a lawsuit by his widow and calls for township leaders to resign.

John “Dave” Woodward Jr., 53, was found dead this summer, along with a note reading, “I can’t take any more of this waiting around to be fired from a job that was my life.”

“We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of J. David Woodward, a friend and valuable employee of West Goshen Township. He is survived by his wife and their daughter. Please keep the Woodward family in your thoughts and prayers,” the West Goshen Republican Committee said in a statement.

“The alleged events leading to Mr. Woodward’s suicide in July 2023…are shocking and raise serious questions about how the West Goshen Township is being managed.”

Woodward’s widow, Doreen Woodward, has filed a lawsuit against West Goshen Township Manager Christopher Bashore, the township, and the Board of Supervisors. She said her husband was mistreated by Bashore, who threatened him with jail and suspended him without pay.

Bashore, hired in January 2022, also suspended Dorine McClune, superintendent of the parks department, Mark Bertolami, superintendent of the roads department, and Michael Moffa, sewer department superintendent, on July 20.

The issue at the center of the Woodward case is the township’s long-standing practice of crediting employees with “snow time” or “squirrel time” for hours they worked plowing snow or doing other jobs while the township offices were officially closed for inclement weather, the lawsuit said.

The four superintendents would track employees’ hours and give them credit for time off at a later date. According to the lawsuit, the policy began under the previous township manager, Casey LaLone. A prior member of the board of supervisors, now deceased, also signed off on it, the suit said.

The four superintendents told Bashore that “snow time” or “squirrel time” was used to fairly compensate public works employees who were required to work while the administrative offices were closed. Administrative employees received their salaries for those days but did not come to work.

In addition to shouting at the four employees and telling them they could go to jail, Bashore mentioned Kennett Township’s former manager was jailed for stealing from that township for the same conduct, the lawsuit said.

Bashore suspended the employees “prior to any investigation.”

He told the four superintendents verbally and in writing they were not allowed to speak to each other during the investigation. The supervisors hired a law firm to investigate the matter. All four superintendents were called in and interviewed by the township’s lawyers without compensation. They all feared they would lose their jobs for conduct that began under the previous township manager.

The four “endured emotional duress,” the lawsuit said.

Then, in September, Bashore called the remaining superintendents in and gave them a letter saying the past and present supervisors never authorized the “snow time” or “squirrel time.”

However, the suit claimed the supervisors knew the truth about the practice and that the late Supervisor Raymond Halvorsen, with the former manager, had put the policy in place. The approximately 30 employees who received the “snow time” were never required to repay the township, and none were sanctioned.

On July 30, two days after Woodward’s body and note were found, Supervisors Chairman Shaun Walsh called the remaining superintendents in and told them to report for work the next morning. Between that day and Sept. 7, the suit said they were not given any additional information about the investigation.

Woodward, a Kennett Square resident, graduated from West Chester High School. He enjoyed family trips, attending his 17-year-old daughter’s marching band and other school events, relaxing in his backyard, watching Phillies and Flyers games and NASCAR races, and riding bikes on the boardwalks in Delaware and Maryland, his obituary said. He also enjoyed grilling on his deck, landscaping and tending his vegetable garden, listening to Frank Sinatra, and spending time with his family.

“Dave was a man of great integrity with a quiet but kind soul who would give you the shirt off his back if needed,” his obituary stated.

“As a direct and legal result” of the supervisors’ and Bashore’s actions, Woodward took his own life, the suit said.

Reached by phone, Bashore declined to comment “on pending litigation.” Walsh did not respond to requests for comment. Lawyer Frances Miller, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Doreen Woodward and Woodward’s estate, could not be reached for comment.

However, the West Goshen Republican Committee issued a statement calling for the resignation of the supervisors and Bashore.

“Actions by the township manager and supervisors leading to Mr. Woodward’s suicide involved interrogation by a hired labor law expert, vehement and angry accusations, suspension without pay, and threats of imprisonment against several department heads within the township. All of this was done because township employees acted in compliance with a long-standing policy for overtime pay. That policy had been in place for over 10 years.”

The defendants “are those responsible for making financial, personnel, and policy decisions within the township. Now, they will be deciding whether to spend West Goshen taxpayer’s money for their own defense.

“This tragic turn of events clearly demonstrates poor leadership, poor management practices, and a callous disregard for consequences. While the community can voice its displeasure regarding the events that have transpired by electing two new board members in November, the others involved will remain, continuing to make more disastrous decisions.

“As a result, the West Goshen Republican Committee hereby calls for the resignation of all five West Goshen Township supervisors and the township manager.”

The suit, filed Oct. 19 in Chester County Court of Common Pleas, demands damages and court costs.

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Could Pennsylvania Join California in Suing Big Oil?

With the declaration, “Enough is enough,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced his state was suing five major oil companies. Now some in Pennsylvania are pushing for the commonwealth to side with California.

While there has been no action from the Attorney General’s Office, David Zeballos with the Center for Climate Integrity (CCI) wants the Keystone State to jump in on the Golden State’s side.

“State and local leaders have an important role to play in supporting these accountability efforts and making polluters pay for the damage they have caused,” he said on October 2 at the Pennsylvania Capitol. “You can lead the charge to calculate local climate change adaptation costs, condemn climate disinformation, raise awareness for urgent action on the climate crisis, and much more. The fossil fuel industry knowingly caused the climate crisis and continues to profit from climate pollution while our communities pay the price.”

CCI is considered the main driver of the civil lawsuits against ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips. California cited the nonprofit several times in court papers. There are reports suggesting CCI is working with other states and cities on their climate-related lawsuits. CCI President Richard Wiles has also suggested more government-backed suits may be on the horizon.

In Pennsylvania, a Big Oil lawsuit enjoys support from state Rep. Christopher M. Rabb (D-Philadelphia County). He cited the Center for Climate Integrity in August when complaining about the warmer-than-usual summer. Rabb vowed it was time to “make Big Oil pay” for the changing weather.

“Just a few weeks ago, intense rains caused flash flooding in my district of Philadelphia and beyond, killing at least six people in Bucks County,” he said. “Pennsylvania communities have an opportunity to sue Big Oil and protect our residents from being stuck with the bill to adapt to the climate crisis that Big Oil created. The worsening impacts of this climate crisis will continue whether we’re ready or not. It’s time to be proactive and protect our communities.”

Fossil fuels are an important part of Pennsylvania’s economy. The state is the second largest natural gas producer in the country, behind only Texas. It is also the top East Coast supplier of natural gas, coal, and refined petroleum products, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Renewable energy provides three percent of the state’s power.

Pennsylvania isn’t involved in any suits against Big Oil, and there’s no word if Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration would even consider it.

The Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association hopes Rabb will stay away from litigation. “The radical greens are attempting to overthrow our modern civilization,” PMA President and CEO David Taylor told DVJournal. “Their allies in the litigation industry are trying to extort money out of the productive sector. Either way, it’s a war on society via the courts, also known as ‘lawfare’.”

Taylor sees the suits as “the stupidest kind of politics” because they are going after an industry “that makes modern life possible.” He points out that environmentalists forget that fossil fuels are used for more than just vehicles and heating.

“Electric cars require a ton of rare earth minerals that have to be mined, processed, and transported from the other side of the world, using massive earth-moving equipment, refineries, and ships,” he said. “The rest of the car is metal, plastic, and synthetic rubber. The road is concrete, which is made from cement. The road is then coated in asphalt, which is a petroleum product. It is then striped with paint, which is another petroleum product. The idea that modern humans can live without petrochemicals and hydrocarbons is insane.”

The suits have run into mixed results in courts. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out New York City’s lawsuit in 2021, saying states didn’t have jurisdiction. The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to move other suits to federal court. Justices are expected to rule on whether Minnesota’s Big Oil suit moves to federal court in the near future.

“Anyone blaming fossil fuels should stop using them,” Taylor quipped. “Good luck.”


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Half of Legal Team Drops Out for Central Bucks Teacher Suing the District

This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty

Three of the six attorneys representing the teacher at the center of a year-long controversy and who is now suing the Central Bucks School District withdrew on Thursday as his counsel in the lawsuit, according to court documents.

The timing is notable because the move came just two business days before Andrew Burgess and his remaining attorneys, mostly from the American Civil Liberties Union, filed an amended complaint with the court which makes new allegations against the district. By removing themselves when they did, the three attorneys did not sign on to and become a party to the newer allegations, although there is no evidence establishing that was their motivation.

Burgess is the suspended teacher who has been the face of the controversy in Bucks County over accusations mostly from the left that the district has created a hostile environment for LGBT students, while the right has argued Burgess manufactured the controversy to set the district up as a patsy for those attacks.

With the help of attorneys from the ACLU, Burgess launched his original lawsuit on April 11, alleging that the district had fired him in retaliation for his support of LGBT students, as well as his criticisms that the district was allegedly falling short in its protection of those students.

On Aug. 10, Eli Segal, John Stapleton, and Kali J. Schellenberg, of the law firm LeVan Stapleton Segal Cochran LLC, all removed themselves as Burgess’ counsel. The amended complaint was filed Monday.

The attorneys did not respond to a request for comment as to what motivated their exit, or as to whether they took the case on a contingency basis, meaning that they would only be paid if Burgess were to win.

The firm’s website makes it clear that it does take some cases on a contingency basis, which not all law firms do.

The departing legal team did express an enthusiasm for Burgess’ lawsuit just months ago, however.

“Andrew Burgess stood up for the LGBTQ+ students of the school district,” Eli Segal was quoted as saying by, shortly after the original suit was filed. “And now we are proud to stand up for him.”

With Segal, Stapleton, and Schellenberg removed, Burgess is left with two attorneys from the ACLU, and a faculty member from the University of Pennsylvania’s Carey School of Law.

The two attorneys for the ACLU of Pennsylvania likewise did not return a request for comment on the developments.

In May 2022, some students at Lenape Middle School walked out in support of Burgess after the district suspended him. Burgess and the students claimed his suspension was retaliation for his support of the LGBT community in the district, and especially because he helped guide one transgender student’s mother to file a federal complaint of sexual discrimination.

The district has since responded that it fired Burgess because it believed he violated policy by hiding some student allegations of bullying from administrators.

The CBSD board, which took on a Republican majority after the 2020 elections, authorized an independent investigation by the local law firm Duane Morris in November of 2021.

The final report of the investigation, delivered on April 20 — nine days after Burgess filed suit — claimed that Burgess had actually withheld allegations of bullying by the main student in question so as to manufacture a pretext for the federal complaint. The federal complaint, in turn, would publicly harm the new board, and add fuel to the fire.

The amended complaint largely featured new allegations that the Duane Morris investigation and report was itself a form of district retaliation against Burgess, saying the report to the board “excoriated and made false allegations” against the teacher.

One example of a “false allegation” cited in the amended complaint is that the Duane Morris report claimed Burgess violated district policy regarding reporting of bad student behavior.

“The [Duane Morris] Report concluded that, prior to CBSD suspending Burgess, he violated the provision of CBSD Board Policy 104 that states: ‘[a] school employee who suspects or is notified that a student has been subject to conduct that constitutes a violation of this policy shall immediately report the incident to the building principal,’” the amended complaint states. “This language requiring reporting to the building principal was added to CBSD Board Policy 104 in June 2022, one month after CBSD suspended Burgess. This version of Board Policy 104, therefore, could not have justified CBSD suspending Burgess on May 6, 2022.”

The Duane Morris report, however, says on page 56 that the policy in question previously existed as Board Policy 103, and “was merged into Board Policy 104…as part of a revision and renumbering of certain Board Policies in 2022.”

Attorney Eli Segal was signed on to Burgess’ original April 11 filing, while John Stapleton entered his appearance on behalf of Burgess on the same day. Only Kali Schellenberg entered her appearance after the Duane Morris report. Her entry landed on April 28, roughly one week after Mike Rinaldi, the attorney for Duane Morris, presented the full investigative report to CBSD.

Along with the Burgess controversy, the district has also been dealing with contentious social debates.

The district’s policy to ban political displays from classrooms has been a consistent point of debate, especially in the media. Although the policy is sometimes portrayed in the media as a policy that bans Pride flags, it actually bans all forms of political advocacy, which would include Trump flags, Thin Blue Line flags, the Confederate battle flag, and other such displays, unless those materials are relevant to the day’s teaching curriculum.

The district has also established a policy that students should be called by the names given by their parents. If a student wishes to be called by a different name or have different pronouns, the district notifies the parent.

And the district has also reviewed some library books which contain sexually explicit images. Two books have been removed. One of those books, Gender Queer, has been a flashpoint nationwide. The book is a cartoon memoir that documents the author’s own journey with sexual identity, and has an explicit drawing of one person giving oral sex to a male.

Critics of the district have taken these three policies together to allege that the board is trying to foster a climate hostile to LGBT students.

The conservative board majority has denied this allegation, most notably in a co-authored opinion piece in the Inquirer that focused mainly on the prohibition of political symbols.

“Most importantly, students learn best when they learn how to think, not what to think,” the board majority wrote. “That sort of critical thinking will equip them for a successful future. Accordingly, the classroom should be a place of education, not indoctrination. And that can occur only when teachers check their politics at the door when instructing students by not advocating their own personal views on partisan, political, or social policy issues.

LeVan Stapleton Segal Cochran LLC describes itself as “a strategic, authentic, efficient, and innovative litigation boutique.” The law firm also espouses a commitment to the community through a My100 initiative. “Commitment to the community is a core principle of LSSC. Our attorneys have a long history of significant and far-reaching pro bono achievements and contributions. As part of the My100 initiative, every LSSC attorney will devote at least 100 hours to pro bono and non-profit board service matters each year. No exceptions.”

The three attorneys who previously represented Burgess cited collaboration with the ACLU as part of their pro bono work, although it’s not clear if that is a reference to the Burgess case. Segal focuses on freedom of expression and government transparency, Stapleton is interested in first amendment rights, and Schellenberg has a focus on civil rights.

Bucks County Water & Sewer Authority sues PA Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources Over Closed New Hope Bridge

The Bucks County Water & Sewer Authority (BCWSA) sued the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), asking a Common Pleas Court judge to order that state agency to immediately begin repairs to a New Hope bridge so that it can reopen within seven days.

The closed Upper Union Mills bridge that crosses the Delaware River Canal is needed for utility vehicle access to the New Hope Waterworks Condominium and a water treatment facility that BCWSA owns on that property between the canal and the Delaware River.

After an inspection on June 8, the DCNR closed the bridge, which cut off the water utility’s only means to access its water treatment plant to make emergency repairs and replace pumps.

The DCNR stated in a letter to the condominium association that it would make temporary repairs to re-open access for BCWSA. However, work on the bridge has not been performed since it was closed, and the repairs report has not been provided. Usually, the water company employees visit the plant two or three times a month. But if repairs are needed now, the suit said there is no way for the utility vehicles to get to the water plant.

So, BCWSA is seeking court intervention to resolve the issue.

“The water treatment facility is critical infrastructure for the residents and businesses of New Hope Borough and the surrounding communities. BCWSA needs to be able to access the facility with the correct equipment and machinery to conduct maintenance and any necessary repairs to provide water for residents, businesses, the Delaware River Canal and fire suppression,” said John Cordisco, chair of BCWSA’s board of directors.

Without the bridge, the Waterworks Condominium has only one entrance over a second bridge that leads directly into a parking garage. The clearance in that garage is too low for emergency vehicles.

“The condo community is prone to flooding, and emergency evacuations can be expected,” said Cordisco. “Services will be delayed in responding to emergency situations, whether it’s flooding, a fire or any other serious incident in the community, risking life and property.”

“Delayed maintenance and repair, especially as we enter hurricane and flooding season for Bucks County, may lead to more serious mechanical issues, breakdowns and even system failures in the New Hope plant, which will cause BCWSA and its ratepayers to pay more money to fix (it),” the suit said.

BCWSA provides water service to 2,600 customers in New Hope Borough. The water treatment facility provides fresh drinking water to residents as well as water to DCNR for use in the Delaware River Canal, helping to alleviate mosquito populations.

The water company and condominium association have repeatedly requested reports and updates from DCNR about the bridge closure, and state Sen. Steve Santarsiero’s office has been mediating.

“It is crucial that we have all the information in front of us and know exactly what repairs are needed,” said Cordisco. “This has been an ongoing issue that needs to be resolved immediately.”

Wesley Robinson, a spokesperson for DCNR, said the department declined to comment about the litigation. A hearing on the matter had yet to be scheduled as of Friday.

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Penn State Abington Sued for Discrimination Against White Professor

Zack De Piero started his dream job as an English and writing professor at Penn State Abington in 2018. But now he says it’s become a nightmare of racial harassment, discrimination and violations of his First Amendment rights.

According to a lawsuit he recently filed in federal court, De Piero claims he was required to watch racially-biased videos, including “White Teachers Are a Problem.” He was also told he had to hold his breath until it hurt so he could feel what it’s like to suffer, and he was told the goal of the training was to “assure that all students see that White supremacy manifests itself in language and writing pedagogy,” the suit said.

De Piero complained to his supervisors to no avail, filed reports about the harassment with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, and finally resigned in August 2021.

De Piero, 40, is the son of first-generation Italian immigrants. He taught in inner-city schools in Philadelphia, earned a master’s degree from Temple, then a Ph.D. in education from the University of California Santa Barbara before starting as an assistant professor of English and writing at Penn State Abington.

Zack De Piero

De Piero told DVJournal he has a state-mandated obligation to report workplace harassment, including that he was harassed.

“Apparently, it doesn’t work that way,” De Piero said. “Apparently, they like to be selective about who is and is not allowed to be discriminated against.”

De Piero noted that Penn State receives taxpayer funding.

“They should be owning this,” he said. “They should be apologizing to students, apologizing to faculty, to Penn State alumni. I don’t know why they aren’t doing that. It makes no sense to me.”

When De Piero was first hired, his supervisor expressed surprise that he was not registered to vote as a Democrat but as an independent.

“They peddled and enforced race-based ideology in addition to imposing other forms of political orthodoxy and race-based dogma,” the suit said.

He was told to grade students equally no matter how they performed.

“Outcomes alone, regardless of the legitimacy of methods of evaluation, mastery of subject matter or intentions, demonstrate whether a faculty member is racist or not,” the suit said. “They called this ‘social justice and ‘antiracism.’”

“They demonstrate a bigotry of low expectations and ‘do not expect Black or Hispanic students to achieve the same mastery of academic subject matter as other students and therefore insist that deficient performance must be excused.” And “accurate assessment of abilities if it happens to show disparate performance among different racial groups is therefore condemned as ‘racist,’” according to the lawsuit.

Also, “overt discrimination against students and faculty who do apply consistent standards, especially white faculty,” was imposed.

De Piero said his supervisor “emailed him and two other White faculty members to say ‘racist structures are quite real in assessment and elsewhere regardless of good intentions that teachers and scholars bring to the set-up of those structures. For me, racism is in the results if the results draw a color line.’”

Penn State pressured him to “ensure consistent grades for students across ‘color lines,’ otherwise, his actions would demonstrate racism. He would be condemned as a racist,” the suit said.

But De Piero rejected this and used an assessment methodology (that) all students, regardless of race, can achieve success if they put in timely work.


However, after George Floyd died, the antiracist training “reached a new fever pitch,” the lawsuit said.

Penn State held a video conference on racism on June 5, 2020. The Penn State trainer expressed her intention to cause Penn State’s White faculty to “feel the pain” that George Floyd endured. “Apparently, at Penn State, the only acceptable method to right historical wrongs is to visit additional ‘pain’ on other racial groups,” the suit said. De Piero and other non-minority faculty were “thus singled out, caused to experience discomfort and feel ‘the pain’ on the basis of their skin color.”

The trainer also “encouraged illegal activity, such as looting.”

“‘What we call looting, I think of as just getting what you’re due,’” the suit quotes her as saying.

The next morning another professor “hectored De Piero about ‘history and White male privilege,’ telling him that resistance to wearing masks is “‘is also more likely to be led by White males than in classrooms taught by women and people of color.’”

Later that week, Aneessah Smith, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Penn State Abington sent an email to the entire faculty and staff instructing them that “Black and Brown people are calling on White people’ to ‘stop being afraid of your own internalized White supremacy.”

She “sent an email to all Penn State Abington faculty, staff, and administrators, instructing all Penn State employees that ‘Black and Brown people are calling on White people’ to ‘stop being afraid of your own internalized White supremacy.’ She instructed White employees to ‘stop talking’ while simultaneously directing members of the white Penn State community to ‘hold other White people accountable.’ She promoted a hostile environment on the basis of race by instructing Penn State’s White employees to ‘feel terrible,’” the suit said.

De Piero’s supervisor told the writing faculty to teach “that White supremacy exists in language itself, and therefore, that the English language itself is ‘racist’ and, furthermore, that white supremacy exists in the teaching of writing of English, and therefore writing teachers are themselves racist White supremacists’ and that ‘reverse racism isn’t racism.’ In doing so, (she) expressed her view that racism practiced against white faculty and students is legitimate,” the suit said.

Penn State did not respond to requests for comment. The Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism  (FAIR) is representing De Piero, with local attorneys Michael Allen and Samantha Harris.

In addition to monetary damages as determined at trial, De Piero is seeking to have his Penn State disciplinary records expunged. De Piero lives in Bucks County with his wife and 4-year-old daughter. He’s teaching at Northampton Community College now.

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Delco Republicans Sue County Council Over Changes to Election Code

This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty. 

Republicans filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Delaware County Council for changes the council made to the election code dealing with how members of the minority political party are appointed to the county election board.

In January, the Delco county council passed an ordinance giving the sitting council far wider latitude to choose that minority-party member, which Republicans say is an illegal power grab.

State law provides that all counties (except those of the first class) shall have an elections board. The same statute also provides that the majority political party must also appoint a representative from a minority party to the elections board.

Democrats first won a 3–2 majority of the five council seats in 2019, and currently enjoy a 5–0 majority.

The state law also says where there is no minority-party representation on the elections board, the county shall, “appoint such representation from a list submitted by the county chairman of the minority party.”

The new county ordinance, however, says the chair of the minority party will submit a list of three people as candidates for the seat on the elections board, but the Delco county council “may reject such list and request a new list of nominees.”

Another section of the new county ordinance says if the minority party does not submit its list of three nominees in 30 days, “Council may appoint any member of the minority party.”

Republicans say both these changes cut against the state law.

“Under the Pennsylvania Election Code, the Council cannot ‘reject’ a nomination from the minority party chairman or make their own minority nomination and appointment,” the lawsuit says.

The suit asks for a judgment from the court affirming the idea that the county chairperson “has the sole authority to nominate the minority member of the board of elections, who the County Council shall appoint.”

A request for comment to the county was not immediately returned.

In February, shortly after the ordinance was passed, county spokeswoman Adrienne Marofsky told Broad + Liberty, “The Delaware County Charter gives the County council unfettered discretion over who to select as the minority party member of the election board.”

“Both the County Solicitor and the Solicitor for the Election Board have reviewed the amended ordinance regarding the appointment of the minority party member of the election board and are confident it is consistent with state law,” Marofsky said at the time.

But Delaware County Republican Party Chairman Frank Agovino obviously disagrees.

“The foundation of democracy rests upon free and fair elections. In Pennsylvania, minority parties have the right to have members on county election boards to act as a crucial check on the majority party and to ensure elections are fair and transparent. The Delaware County Democrats are violating the law in a blatant power grab by trying to deny the minority party this right,” Agovino said in a statement.

“Elections produce partisan outcomes; however, the process of administering and certifying them should be bipartisan. The Delco GOP is seeking to uphold basic principles of fairness and transparency to protect whoever the minority is now and in the future,” Agovino added.

The complaint also notes that the term of the current Republican member of the elections board, John McBlain, is set to expire in December, meaning the issue of how a minority member will be appointed to replace him will be directly at issue at that time.

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Bucks County Sues Social Media Companies Over Harm to Kids

Bucks County officials filed a class action late Tuesday over the harm they claim Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube are inflicting on kids. The move makes Bucks the first county government entity in the nation to file that kind of litigation.

“It’s very personal to me,” said Solicitor Joseph Kahn, who noted he is also a parent. “What this lawsuit addresses is a mental health crisis that severely impacts children everywhere, particularly in Bucks County. Like parents everywhere, I have been wondering, what am I going to do about this?”

Kahn was joined by Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub, Commissioners Chair Robert Harvie, and Commissioners Diane Marseglia and Gene DiGirolamo.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco claims, “Youth mental health problems have advanced in lockstep with the growth of social media platforms deliberately designed to attract and addict youth to the platforms by amplifying harmful material, dosing users with dopamine hits, and thereby driving youth engagement and advertising revenue.

“Defendants Facebook, Instagram, Snap, TikTok, and YouTube all design, market, promote, and operate social media platforms for which they have especially cultivated a young audience. They have successfully grown their platforms exponentially over the past decade, from millions to billions of users, particularly children, and teens.”

And those young people have suffered, the lawsuit alleges, raising costs for county taxpayers who pay for their mental health and other services.

“Bucks County residents have borne painful witness to all of this, firsthand, to devastating effect,” the lawsuit says. “For instance, in October 2022, a 15-year-old boy in Bucks County was arrested after threatening to ‘shoot up’ Central Bucks High School West via a Snapchat message. The boy also used TikTok to share videos of other mass shootings.”

Meta, the parent company for Facebook and Instagram, released a statement touting its efforts at promoting responsible social media use.

“We want teens to be safe online,” said Meta’s Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis. “We’ve developed more than 30 tools to support teens and families, including supervision tools that let parents limit the amount of time their teens spend on Instagram, and age verification technology that helps teens have age-appropriate experiences.

“We don’t allow content that promotes suicide, self-harm, or eating disorders, and of the content we remove or take action on, we identify over 99 percent of it before it’s reported to us. We’ll continue to work closely with experts, policymakers, and parents on these important issues.”

Not good enough, Bucks County officials say, pointing to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing a surge in depression and suicidal thoughts among American teens between 2011 and 2021. That coincided with the explosion of social media use by teens.

“A Pew Research Study found that almost half of U.S. teenagers aged 13 to 17 say they are online ‘almost constantly,'” the lawsuit reads.

The county is asking for monetary damages and an injunction against the social media companies, officials told DVJournal during Wednesday’s press conference.

The county has a long history of providing mental health services to children and teenagers paid for by taxpayers. The lawsuit asks the court to make the social media companies pay, Kahn explained, adding the companies violate Pennsylvania’s fair trade practices law.

Bucks County isn’t the only government entity to sue social media companies over the alleged harm their products inflict on users. The Seattle public school system is suing several large social media companies. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox has announced plans to sue as well.

Given the extremely deep pockets of social media companies like Facebook and YouTube, what chance does Bucks County have of winning this suit?

Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub said, “I do liken it to a David versus Goliath situation, where we’re David. We’re taking on these enormous companies…They’ve not only taken advantage of our children, but they’ve preyed on our children.”

The mental health agencies have a “literal and figurative line out the door,” said Weintraub. “And it’s filled with our young people. We intend to win. We intend to stake our claim.”

Villanova law Professor and Vice Dean Michael Risch said the David vs. Goliath comparison is overly optimistic.

“David at least had the stone, right? But this David has nothing. The sling is empty,” Risch told DVJournal.

Risch pointed to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which protects internet providers from just this sort of liability for the content that third parties post on their sites. A case recently heard by the U.S. Supreme Court claimed that Google is liable for terrorist videos, and the high court appeared unlikely to rule against the search site, he said.

“Here’s something one of your friends posted,” said Risch. “These are not terrorist videos. So, even if Google were to lose in the Supreme Court, it’s unclear whether the behavior of the tech companies is similar to serving up recruitment videos for terrorists because it’s harmful to kids to see other kids primping and doing whatever else they do.”

“This, by the way, is completely accepting these sites are harmful,” he added.

But if the case is allowed to progress, regardless of the final outcome, it could still be problematic for the social media giants.

“I can’t wait to begin discovery,” said Commissioner DiGirolamo. “Where we dig into the emails of the people who work for these companies. They knew what they were doing. ‘Not harmful and not addictive.’ Where have we heard that before? We heard it from the drug companies for many, many years. And (they) pushed these drugs on society.

“I think we’re going to find out these social media platforms knew exactly what they were doing and were preying on our young people. And we’d like to put an end to it, and we’d like to hold them accountable.”

A spokesman for TikTok said he could not comment on litigation but noted the company has various safeguards for underage users including limits on screen time.  Snapchat did not respond to a request for comment.

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Police, Springfield Township Agree to Injunction on Thin Blue Line Flag Ban

After police filed a lawsuit over Springfield Township’s ban on the thin blue line American flag symbol, the township has agreed to an injunction. As a result, the ban will not take effect.

The Fraternal Order of Police Pennsylvania Lodge, the Springfield Township Police Benevolent Association, and three officers filed the suit against the township and its board of commissioners individually.

The plaintiffs asked a judge for an emergency temporary restraining order, followed by an injunction, so they can keep the flag. Officers feared retaliation, including losing their jobs, if they did not comply with the resolution. Federal Judge Karen Marston issued an order on Wednesday after both sides agreed to the injunction.

“We are very pleased,” said Wally Zimolong, attorney for the police. “The resolution is blatantly unconstitutional as re-enforced by decades of Supreme Court precedent. But it is unfortunate that it took a federal lawsuit to halt its implementation.”

On Jan. 11, the board voted 5-2 to ban the display of the flag on township property, from police uniforms, or on their bodies (tattoos) while on duty, and on any township property in the Montgomery County community.

The PBA uses the thin blue line American flag as its logo.

While the thin blue line flag is widely recognized as a symbol of support for police, especially for fallen officers, some say it symbolizes hate or oppression. And some white supremacist groups have flown the flag as well.

Residents espoused both sides of the issue during discussions at township meetings, but those who opposed the flag carried the day.

In the lawsuit, the police claimed the township’s ban is a violation of their First Amendment right to free speech and also their Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under the law.

The ban is” blatantly unconstitutional,” the suit said. “It defiles bedrock First Amendment principles reiterated by a legion of Supreme Court cases.”

“These First Amendment protections are not diluted for speech that some might find offensive, distasteful, or controversial,” the suit said. And governments, including municipal governments, cannot ban speech.

“The Thin Blue Line flag is clearly entitled to First Amendment protection,” the suit argues. “Flags have been used to convey messages from almost the beginning of civilization. The Thin Blue Line flag is no different. Less than a year ago, the Third Circuit recognized that it carries and expresses a political, social, cultural, and symbolic meaning (in a case out of Boston).”

“The Thin Blue Line flag has come to represent a show of support for and solidarity with members of law enforcement, which includes police officers. Through a resolution at its national conference, the Fraternal Order of Police have affirmed its support for the use of the Thin Blue Line flag by law enforcement and the communities they protect,” according to the suit.

The Pennsylvania FOP “believes that the Thin Blue Line flag represents the preservation of the rule of law, the protection of peace and freedom, the sacrifice of fallen law enforcement officers and the dedication of law enforcement officers.”

The Springfield PBA also believes that the Thin Blue Line flag represents the same things.

Springfield PBA displays this logo on its website and “it displays the logo at fundraisers, events supporting Springfield PBA, and merchandise.”

“Moreover, its members display, depict, install, affix, or use the Thin Blue Line flag on pins, buttons, articles of clothing, and items affixed to personal belongings, such as bumper stickers and patches. Many members of the Springfield PBA wear a rubber replacement wedding ring that displays and depicts the Thin Blue Line flag,” the suit said.

Also, “defendants do not hide that at least one of their motivations for banning the Thin Blue Line flag is because it “represent[s] opposition to racial justice movements, including the Black Lives Matter cause.”

“That certain members of the public may view the Thin Blue Line flag negatively scarcely helps the constitutionality of the (Springfield) resolution. If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable,” the suit notes.

Asked to comment, Commissioners President James Lee declined, instead referring to the video of the BOC meeting where the resolution was adopted.

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Pro-DeSantis for POTUS Group Sues FEC Over Restrictions on Sharing Petition List

A “draft Ron DeSantis” committee filed a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission on Thursday, saying it has “taken federal campaign finance law to an unconstitutional extreme” by treating a signed political petition as a campaign contribution.

On Sept. 28, the six-member FEC, which regulates federal campaign finance, rejected a request by Ready for Ron to share its list of those who signed the petition for DeSantis to run for president — along with their contact information — with DeSantis.

The lawsuit was filed by Republican campaign finance attorney Dan Backer and Ready for Ron chief legal counsel Lilian Rodriguez-Baz in the District Court for the District of Columbia.

Polls consistently show DeSantis — seeking re-election as Florida governor this year — is the leading GOP candidate for president in 2024 if former President Donald Trump does not run. Some polls have shown DeSantis competitive with Trump in a Republican primary.

Backer said Ready for Ron is building toward 100,000 petition signers, who provided contact information such as phone numbers and email addresses.

“I am bullish on this case,” Backer said. “We hope to have a hearing and decision by the end of the year to move as quickly as possible.”

Backer said his case is simple: Sharing a list isn’t a political contribution.

“If RFR (Ready for Ron) could organize tens of thousands of people to join together outside of Governor DeSantis’ window to croon for his candidacy, they have the right to do so through a signed petition,” the complaint says. “Speech does not become a contribution simply because it is embodied in written form. Independently, another reason the signed petition is not a contribution is because it does not constitute a ‘thing of value.’”

And, added Backer, binding D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals precedent allows for sharing lists, and past FEC advisory opinions have approved the transfer of contact information from one political committee to another.

Ready for Ron is not affiliated with DeSantis or the DeSantis re-election campaign for governor. The group is a hybrid political action committee and draft campaign formed in May.

Soon after forming the committee, Backer sought an FEC advisory opinion to share its list of petition signers with DeSantis to encourage him to run for president and possibly use the list of supporters if he announces his candidacy.

The FEC opinion argued that even being asked to consider running for office could constitute “testing the waters.”

“The Commission concludes that R4R may not provide the names and contact information to Gov. DeSantis if he either becomes a federal candidate or begins testing the waters for a potential federal candidacy because the value of that information would exceed applicable contribution limits and limits on funds used to test the waters,” the FEC opinion from Sept. 28 says.

“The proposal to provide the contact information to Gov. DeSantis after he becomes a federal candidate or begins testing the waters is also contrary to restrictions on the use of funds in the non-contribution accounts of political committees with both contribution and non-contribution accounts,” the FEC opinion said.

R4R countered that other political committees like the pro-Democratic ActBlue and pro-Republican WinRed routinely share the list of contributors with campaigns. And, Backer notes, the names of petition signers are not donors.

“RFR seeks to provide a potential candidate with phone numbers and/or email addresses of that potential candidate’s political supporters who have signed a petition to him through RFR’s online portal and wish to provide their contact information to him as a material part of that expression of political sentiment,” the lawsuit says.

“The FEC is defending a bizarre pay-to-play system where political contributions and the entities involved in processing them receive greater legal and constitutional protection than ordinary Americans seeking to engage in pure political speech by signing a petition without making a political contribution.”


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GOP Files Lawsuit to Ensure Election Integrity in PA Midterms

With only weeks until the important midterm elections, the acting secretary of state ordered counties to disregard a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court requiring mail-in and absentee ballot envelopes to be signed and dated.

On Oct. 11, acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman sent a directive to county election officials saying the high court’s order was “not based on the merits of the issue.”

“It provides no justification for counties to exclude ballots based on a minor omission and we expect that counties will continue to comply with their obligation to count all legal votes,” Chapman wrote in that directive.

The state and national Republican committees, along with some voters, are crying foul.

They filed a “King’s Bench” lawsuit asking the state Supreme Court to order Chapman to follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s order.

In a joint statement, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer, and Pennsylvania GOP Chairman Lawrence Tabas said, “As the Pennsylvania legislature and U.S. Supreme Court have made clear, undated mail-in ballots should not be counted. Republicans are holding Pennsylvania Democrats accountable for their brazen defiance of the (U.S.) Supreme Court and the rules duly set by the legislature. Pennsylvania Democrats have a history of election integrity failures and Pennsylvanians deserve better: this lawsuit is the latest step in Republican efforts to promote free, fair, and transparent elections in the Keystone State.”

In May 2022 the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled ballots with undated envelopes should be counted. The issue stemmed from the close Republican primary that resulted in a lawsuit between Dr. Mehmet Oz and David McCormick.

The 3rd Circuit panel held that handwritten dates on the envelopes do not affect voters’ eligibility. Also, that court ruled voters’ civil rights would be violated if their ballots were tossed due to the omission of a date.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected that finding and upheld Pennsylvania’s election law as written.

The mail-in ballots have been a bone of contention since Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf signed a law, Act 77 that permits no-excuse absentee ballots. While the legislature passed that law with a bipartisan vote, many Republican lawmakers now believe it should be changed, especially since former President Donald Trump blamed mail-in ballots and drop boxes as part of the reason he lost the state of Pennsylvania to President Joe Biden in 2020. However, court challenges to Act 77 have failed to overturn that law, which remains in place.

Wolf appointed Chapman as acting secretary in January. At that time, former Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill McSwain, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, decried her as someone too partisan to be confirmed by the legislature. Chapman had previously worked for Deliver My Vote, which is nonpartisan under the tax code; McSwain noted its “founders are on record saying they are pushing mail-in voting to help Democrats” get elected. Deliver My Vote promotes mail-in balloting that “specifically favors Democrats,” said McSwain.

The GOP suit asks the court to order counties to segregate any undated ballots from ballots filed correctly. While some counties plan to do that, others do not which would result in “unequal treatment” of voters, violating the constitution.

“Any counting of ballots that the General Assembly has declared invalid—and the lack of statewide uniformity in the treatment of undated or incorrectly dated ballots—are eroding public trust and confidence in the integrity of Pennsylvania’s elections at a vital moment in the nation’s and the Commonwealth’s history,” the suit said. “The court therefore should take immediate action to uphold the General Assembly’s date requirement and to set aside the secretary’s invalid guidance.”

Liz Preate Havey, chair of the Montgomery County Republican Committee, said Montgomery County will segregate ballots with errors.

“It just leads to more and more distrust. We do have these drop boxes where we’ve seen time and time again, we have video, where over 100 people doing multiple drops in one election cycle. We’re just asking for reasonable election integrity measures to be in place,” said Havey.  If there is a problem with someone’s mail-in ballot, they can go to their polling place and vote by provisional ballot.

“The Bucks County Board of Elections will segregate ballots arriving in misdated and undated envelopes. Those ballots will be included in reported vote totals, but will be scanned separately so those votes can be subtracted if necessary,” said a county spokesman.

James Allen, director of Voter Services for Delaware County said, “We will handle this the same way we did during the Primary. We will process the ballots from undated envelopes in a separate batch, so that if we receive yet another court ruling or different guidance from the Department of State, we would have the option to back out that batch.”

“It’s still too early to give a definitive answer on how Chester County will proceed.  The Board is considering the status of the law in Pennsylvania and will make a decision soon,” said Rebecca Brain, a spokeswoman for the county.

Republican Guy Ciarrocchi, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Berks/Chester), criticized her for a voter education town hall with Chapman that Houlahan held on October 13.

“The chief elections’ official in Pennsylvania has defied the US Supreme Court—and, then directed every county join her in defiance. She then spoke at the Houlahan town hall—essentially a campaign event. Chapman has failed in her primary duty—to be an impartial election official to instill trust.

Houlahan has shown bad judgment in using taxpayers’ money for the event—and, compounded the error by having Chapman speak at her town hall. Sadly, Houlahan continues to act like a partisan politician; not the bipartisan problem solver she alleges in her ads. Actions speak louder than words,” Ciarrocchi said.

Houlahan’s campaign spokesperson, Shane Wolfe said, “This criticism is not only wrong on the merit, but seems to come from a place of misunderstanding the job of our public servants. The town hall had absolutely nothing to do with politics or campaigning. It did have to do with public servants doing their jobs to make themselves available and inform the public — regardless of party affiliation — about how to safely and securely exercise their right to vote. If election officials should not answer these questions now, when voters have questions, when should they?”

In a press release after the town hall, Houlahan said, “Representing a purple community means educating all community members, regardless of political affiliation, on how to cast their ballot. Last night, we had a straightforward conversation about the voting process and answered questions on a wide range of concerns. I will continue to share resources with all constituents who reach out, and I encourage all eligible Pennsylvanians to exercise their constitutional right to vote.”

Chapman did not respond to requests for comment.

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