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Fayette commissioner's suit allowed to proceed

| Saturday, Sept. 18, 2010

A federal magistrate in Pittsburgh has refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a Fayette County commissioner against two colleagues alleging they violated her First Amendment rights.

Magistrate Cathy Bissoon will allow the suit to proceed with the stipulation that Republican Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink be more specific about how Democratic commissioners Vincent Zapotsky and Vincent Vicites conspired to deprive her of her civil rights.

Bissoon said Zimmerlink must provide the details so Bissoon can rule whether Zapotsky and Vicites have absolute immunity from lawsuits.

Zapotsky and Vicites argue they have absolute legislative or qualified immunity from lawsuits for any action they may undertake under "the sphere of legitimate legislative activity."

Zimmerlink's attorney, Jordon Lee Strassburger of Pittsburgh, objected to the ruling, arguing that the magistrate applied the incorrect standards in making her decision.

He argued that his client has supported her allegations "with many concrete, factual examples," but Bissoon said "her examples are far from concrete."

Specifically, Strassburger said Zimmerlink was excluded from deliberations when the two men discussed adopting a hotel tax; relocation of the headquarters for the Emergency Management Agency; the approval of a contract with a consulting firm; and the hiring of an information and technology director.

Zimmerlink portrays herself in the suit as an "outspoken critic" of board policies and contends that her colleagues conspired to exclude her from those deliberations so she would not be able to discuss those issues publicly.

Zimmerlink accused the pair of holding executive sessions to discuss issues that legally are not subjects for closed-door meetings.

She also charged that they "manipulated" minutes of public board meetings, according to the suit.

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