Ground Zero: Perry County
Perry County, Pennsylvania, may be a deeply rural and tranquil place with just one traffic light, but it is Ground Zero for the latest battle over your Constitutional gun rights.
The results of this battle have enormous implications for all Pennsylvanians, irrespective of where they live, because any legal holding will eventually apply not just to one county, but all counties and all citizens.
Unquestionably acting on political goals, the three county auditors recently sued the county sheriff, Carl Nace, demanding that he provide the names and addresses of concealed carry permit applicants his office processes. Nace refused, citing state law which seems crystal clear on the subject.
Much has been written here and elsewhere about this lawsuit and its genesis, so I will not re-trace those steps, but it is valuable to report back on where things stand as of yesterday.
Yesterday a hearing was held in New Bloomfield, Perry County’s seat of local government, on the auditors’ lawsuit against Nace. The hearing was intended to give both parties an opportunity to argue their case before a judge. The three county auditors are the plaintiff, and Sheriff Nace is the defendant.
I sat literally front and center in the court room, accompanied by Carl Fox and Jim Lucas, among many other wonderful citizens, activists, and concerned citizens. Carl Fox is president of the Duncannon Sportsman’s Association, and Jim Lucas is an engineer and well known political activist. Both Carl and Jim are involved in supporting Sheriff Nace and determining the background to the lawsuit. Both men believe the lawsuit has political purposes and goals, and is not some innocent procedural cause in the interest of perfect auditing everywhere.
Attorney Joshua Prince represented Nace, and attorney Craig Staudenmaier represented the three county auditors. The auditors were not present, either at the court house, nor at the hearing. Nace sat with his attorney in the court room.
Judge George Zanic sat directly in front of me with a clear line of sight between us, and I hope he wasn’t put off by my large prescription sunglasses, which I wear to keep summertime migraine headaches at bay, even inside. With my new, white, grizzled beard, wrap-around sunglasses, and unkempt end-of-summer hair, several people I already know approached me to learn who I was. One asked me if I was there for "the opposition," and then laughed out loud when he realized who I was. That beard is coming off today! And yes, this is an indication that I am having a hard time letting go of the fantastic, if exhausting, summer I spent with my wife, kids, and friends.
Judge Zanic boiled down the entire argument to two points, one in each set of motions filed by each party. Zanic appeared most curious and skeptical about attorney Craig Staudenmaier’s assertions and claims about the need for the information, and the deficiency he says the county audit suffers from without the applicants’ names and addresses. More questions were asked of Staudenmaier than of Prince, and those questions for Staudenmaier were more pointed than those posed by the judge to Prince.
The judge was clearly having trouble understanding the plaintiff’s demand, or the need for the demand in the first place.
Citing general auditing standards, Judge Zanic referred to his own experience as a professional and as a former district attorney. Zanic disagreed with Staudenmaier about what information is necessary for any audit, let alone a county audit that was successfully completed by another firm when the auditors failed to do their own.
Prince did an excellent job in all respects, demonstrating a clear and quick knowledge of the governing statute, related laws, and the facts. Prince was articulate, clearly well prepared, and he stayed with Nace after the judge departed; both men answered questions from citizens and reporters.
Staudenmaier was often halting in his explanations, seemingly confused at times, and he argued in circles, often failing to directly answer the judge’s pointed questions. Some of his answers were rudimentary and elicited grumpy mutters from the audience. As soon as the judge left, Staudenmaier shot out of his seat, grabbed his papers, and fled out the back of the court house, through a hallway and door off limits to the audience. He took no questions from anyone in the court room, nor from anyone outside the court house.
Channels 43 and 27 were there, as was the Patriot News. Kudos to reporter Dennis Owens for pointing out that the auditors were not present at their own hearing, which is unnecessarily costing the county taxpayers a lot of money. Their absence raises questions about just how seriously they take all this mess they have created.
Uniformed sheriffs and deputies from at least 15 counties were in attendance, in support of Sheriff Nace.
The court room was about 85% full.
"I hope to have a decision for you very soon," said Judge Zanic.
Here is my take-away:
1) A person can draw their own conclusions about the quality or necessity of elected officials who take taxpayer money, who initiate unnecessary and expensive litigation, and who then do not show up in public or even at their own hearing. You cannot kick the hornet’s nest without getting stung, and then complain about it, but that is what these three auditors are doing. What they have said, and what their spokesman attorney Craig Staudenmaier has said, is that these three feel unhappy about the negative reactions their citizens have had over this lawsuit. Some counties do not have auditors, and it seems that the three in Perry County have proven they are either unfit or not needed. Perry County should either eliminate the office of county auditor, or vote these three out of office.
2) Perry County should do everything it can to determine who is behind the auditors’ lawsuit, including determining who paid Staudenmaier. This should be done to determine what political forces are in play (CeaseFirePA? Bloomberg? Soros? The Democratic Party of Pennsylvania? A local elected official?), and why they are present, and also let’s see if the people who started this expensive mess can then be held accountable and pay for it out of their own pockets.
3) Perry County should prepare to recover any costs or legal fees associated with this lawsuit, whether from the three auditors or from someone else who may be accountable. I think that Joshua Prince is representing Sheriff Nace for free, but no one should have to spend time defending someone from a frivolous lawsuit at their sole expense.