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Illegal Action by Lower Saucon Township Interim Solicitor Raises Allegations of Impropriety

During last evening’s Lower Saucon Township Council meeting, it was revealed that the Township interim solicitor, Steve Goudsouzian, either on his own accord, or by the direction of other councilmembers, took legal action on behalf of the Township, without any notification to the public or a formal vote.

 

illegal-act-raises-allegations

It wasn’t until the end of the nearly 4-hour meeting that Bethlehem Landfill attorney Maryanne Garber made the revelation regarding apparent illegal action taken, however, it was not clear if the interim solicitor had acted on his own or at the direction of others.

 

Mary Ann Garber, representing the Bethlehem Landfill, stated, “Two days ago, we were notified that the Township solicitor filed papers with the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas in one of the five lawsuits that are pending against the Bethlehem Landfill Company and the Township, related to the expansion of the Bethlehem Landfill.”


You can view the allegations in this 8-minute video, courtesy of the Lower Saucon Township official YouTube channel.


Garber continued, “Although the Township is a defendant in that lawsuit, the solicitor has filed a joinder brief to plaintiffs and interveners, preliminary objections to the preliminary objections of Bethlehem Landfill. This essentially means that the Township has jumped to the other side of the case in this litigation, joining with the plaintiffs in the legal arguments being made.

 

Garber stated, “We know that it’s Council’s plan to reverse the prior Council’s position in this lawsuit and the four other lawsuits and join with the opponents in their challenges to stop the expansion. We know this because Ms. Opthof and Ms. Ray have said that in writing, in documents that we discovered because of right-to-know requests.”

 

According to comments by Garber, “this decision, to direct the solicitor to make this filing and essentially change legal positions, was not made, or even announced, at a public meeting. Presumably, a majority of Council directed the solicitor to file those papers, during the Executive Session that preceded the April 3 (2024) Council Meeting.”

 

At this point, both Councilmembers Banonis and Carocci stated, “that did not happen”, in reference to Council directing the solicitor to act during the referenced executive session. Garber went on to state “that’s an issue, because if the solicitor made the filing without direction from Council, that in and of itself would be a violation of the Home Rule Charter.”

 

While legal matters can be discussed and debated in an executive session of council, any official action resulting from those discussions must be voted on at a public meeting. That did not happen, according to both Garber and two members of Council. Garber continued, “the Township’s failure to do so is a clear violation of the PA Sunshine Act”.

 

Ms. Garber continued, “had the decision to change course in the litigation been appropriately voted on in a public meeting, on behalf of Bethlehem Landfill, I would have objected to the propriety of Ms. Opthof-Cordaro’s participating in that vote because of her clear conflict of interest in the matter and would have demanded she recuse herself.”

 

Ms. Garber than laid out a litany of facts “evidencing her conflicts of interest”:

 

  • Ms. Opthof-Cordaro’s parents have claimed under oath that a proposed landfill expansion will decrease the value of their property.

  • Ms. Opthof-Cordaro’s parents have been party to three separate lawsuits to stop the expansion of the landfill, one of which is still pending.

  • Ms. Opthof-Cordaro, who is a lawyer, worked directly with the attorney retained by her parents, Mr. Gary Asteak, to fight the expansion.

  • She did substantive legal work in those cases, including legal research, fact gathering, developing legal strategy, assisted in the retention of experts, acted as a liaison between her parents and the other individuals involved.

  • Ms. Opthof-Cordaro is listed as council of record for the opponents.

  • Ms. Opthof-Cordaro was the founder, spokesperson, and media contact for ‘Citizens for Responsible Development, a grassroots landfill opposition group.

  • Ms. Opthof-Cordaro has raised funds to fight the expansion, including for the payment of legal fees and expert fees in the various pieces of litigation.

 

To further highlight the hypocrisy of Ms. Opthof-Cordaro, Ms. Garber also pointed out that, “public officials are prohibited from using their authority for the private pecuniary benefit of any member of their immediate family – which Ms. Opthof-Cordaro knows, because she recused herself from an issue that involved a development in which her sister lives just a few weeks ago.”

 

After her comments, Councilmember Tom Carocci added, “there was an executive session and there was no vote.” Councilmember Jason Banonis stated, “this is shocking and stunning.” Prior to his comments, Mr. Banonis moved to sit in the audience facing Council.

 

Banonis stated, “the reason why I’m sitting out here at the table looking back is because I want to see the looks on these despicable people that have undertaken these activities.”

 

Ms. Opthof-Cordaro, considering all the allegations against her and the others, said nothing to defend her actions or justify them to the public. Interim Solicitor Goudsouzian remained silent as well, refusing to acknowledge the issues or disclose why he undertook such measures in apparent violation of the law.

 

Banonis warned that the Township will likely get sued – perhaps as it should – for such deliberate illegal conduct. He also called for a disciplinary investigation of Opthof-Cordaro and Goudsouzian, both lawyers. He further demanded the next Council agenda include firing or accepting the resignation of the Interim Solicitor.

 

The full 4-hour meeting can be watched in its entirety by clicking here.


The next Lower Saucon Council meeting will be held on May 1, 2024, beginning at 6:30PM.

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