Deputies, sheriff might settle lawsuit

JOHNSTOWN – An attempt will be made in the next couple of months to settle a federal lawsuit brought by two former Bedford County sheriff’s deputies against the county and their former boss who they said fired them for engaging in politics while on duty.

The sheriff, Charwin Reichelderfer, has contended over the past two years that longtime deputies, Charles E. Stuby and Lukas J. Berkey, were not let go for their political beliefs – an alleged violation of their First Amendment rights – but because they were campaigning on county time when they should have been working.

U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson in Johnstown has rejected a request by the sheriff to dismiss the lawsuit.

He said in an October opinion that at this point in the case he could not rule out the contention by the deputies that they were fired because of their political beliefs.

Stuby, an 11-year veteran of the sheriff’s department, ran against Reichelderfer in 2011. He was allegedly supported by Berkey, who had worked for the department for eight years.

The sheriff fired the pair within days of the election, contending they had violated office procedures.

The deputies contend they were fired because of Stuby’s candidacy.

Two weeks ago, Gibson held a status conference that included Blair County attorney Mary Lou Maierhofer, representing the sheriff, and attorney Samuel J. Cordes of Pittsburgh, who represents the deputies.

Both sides said they were ready for trial, according to the judge’s report on the status conference.

But both sides stated they would agree to mediation in an attempt to settle the case out of court.

Gibson stated he would send the case to Magistrate Judge Keith Pesto, sitting in Johnstown, for mediation.

The judge also stated in his memorandum that if the case could not be resolved, a jury would be selected for trial during the week of March 24.

No date has been set for Pesto to attempt to mediate the case.

According to Gibson’s October opinion, the defense failed to show how Stuby’s 2011 campaign disrupted the sheriff’s department.

On the other side, the sheriff said that the two violated departmental rules, for instance, giving legal advice to an inmate, smoking with inmates and wearing a uniform while off-duty to engage in personal business, among other examples.

The deputies must show a jury, Gibson stated in his opinion, that the political affiliations of the deputies represented a “substantial motivating factor” in their dismissals.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.