The Lancaster County Commissioners are calling on District Attorney Craig Stedman to drop his "frivolous" lawsuit against the county government, which they say is meant to "silence all who dare to express legitimate concerns about his questionable decision making."
Stedman filed suit in March against county commissioners Dennis Stuckey, Josh Parsons and Craig Lehman, following public statements the commissioners made on issues in the district attorney's office. The case is set for argument in the state's Commonwealth Court, located in Harrisburg, in early September.
"Lancaster County prides itself on fiscally responsible, accountable and transparent government," the statement from the majority Republican board of commissioners reads. "Craig Stedman's course of conduct is the exact opposite of those values. With his one-person war against government transparency and financial accountability, he has become a caricature of a politician who has something to hide and acts as though the public purse is his own personal checkbook."
Matt Haverstick, an attorney with the private law firm representing the office, Philadelphia-based Kleinbard LLC, said the statement was a "desperate plea" from the commissioners and said Stedman's case is strong and "anything but frivolous."
"Time and time again the County Commissioners have put their egos and own political ambitions ahead of the people," Haverstick said in his statement. "Their continued actions have only attempted to obstruct District Attorney Stedman from continuing his great work to protect our communities."
The intragovernment feud began following public statements the commissioners' office made in response to reporting from LNP on Stedman's lease of an SUV using drug forfeiture funds, as well as personnel issues inside his office, which the county's human resources department determined were "related to political campaign activities."
Stedman, also a Republican, threatened to sue the commissioners for defamation if they did not cease and desist, and later filed a petition for review with the Commonwealth Court. The two entities have been trading jabs in legal filings ever since.
On Wednesday, the commissioners again expressed their discontent with Stedman's SUV lease, and called it egregious that he would take nearly $2,000 in mileage reimbursements, which their statement said is intended only for personal vehicles.
Stedman later paid back some of the mileage reimbursements, but the commissioners in the statement say more is still owed because gas costs were subtracted from the amount he paid back, despite no gas receipts being included.
"A person who would secretly lease a vehicle using government funds, then take mileage reimbursements on that leased vehicle, and then on the verge of being publicly discovered try to clean up his mess while acting as if he is the victim has obviously lost his way," the commissioners wrote.
In a statement on behalf of the district attorney's office, Brett Hambright refuted the idea that any additional money was owed to the taxpayers.
"This is just pure fiction," Hambright wrote. "There simply was no attempt to receive excess reimbursement and any issue was resolved at the direction and approval of the Controller and Solicitor – and the (board of commissioners) knows this."
Stedman has said previously this way of leasing a vehicle is not improper and cites a letter from the controller as justification, although the commissioners said they were not aware of the lease ahead of time and it violates their contracting authority.
Hambright said the county has always handled drug forfeiture fund purchases this way, including five recent purchases, to insulate the commissioners in accordance with the law.
"Unfortunately, it appears he believes he is the law," the commissioners' statement says in conclusion. "That is beyond troubling in any elected official, but especially in a district attorney."
The Lancaster County District Attorney's office is also involved in another legal matter, a bid by LNP to obtain spending records of drug forfeiture money. That case is scheduled for a hearing before Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas Judge Leonard Brown on Friday at 10 a.m.