Days before an election that would decide which major party controls a host of municipal and county offices, a former Washington County Democratic Committee chairman filed a lawsuit that promises to continue a long-running feud with another functionary who succeeded him as chairman.
The “complaint at law,” filed on behalf of Milan Marinkovich of Carroll Township, comes a year after a Superior Court ruling that Marinkovich describes as his own vindication in an 11-year legal battle. Now, he’s suing George Vitteck – who took over leadership of the committee in 2008 – and two other people who have been involved in the litigation.
The lawsuit, in which Marinkovich is represented by attorney Charles Kurowski, contains claims of “abuse of process” and “wrongful use of civil proceeds” by “malicious process.” Alongside Vitteck, who’s from Canton Township, the complaint names Ron Sicchitano of North Bethlehem Township, another former chairman, and attorney James Jeffries, who represented the committee in the previous litigation.
Vitteck declined comment. Sicchitano didn’t return a message for comment on this story.
Jeffries said he had “not been served yet so I can’t comment, but when I do get served I will be handing it over to my attorneys and they will be making short work of it.” He added his lawyer would be Mike DeRiso, at whose firm he works.
Kurowski wrote in the lawsuit his client is “a good honest, virtuous and law-abiding person of good reputation” in the community. But despite this, the attorney wrote Marinkovich’s successors allegedly defamed him when they falsely accused him of breaking the law in the case Vitteck filed when he took over as chairman. Sicchitano allegedly carried it on when he served in the role, Kurowski asserted.
“By means of the above-mentioned premises, defendants unlawfully and maliciously caused Marinkovich to become greatly harassed and injured and caused plaintiff to suffer mental and nervous strain and stress in addition to extensive legal fees,” Kurowski wrote in the 16-page filing.
Presided over by Common Pleas Judge John F. DiSalle, the first case meandered through the courts for most of the time DiSalle has been on the bench. Kurowski – a Democrat and frequent and enthusiastic candidate in judicial elections – lost the race for the seat to DiSalle in 2005.
It is unclear if the years of infighting had any effect on political trends in the county. But it did at least coincide with substantial gains of electoral ground by the GOP.
Republicans now control all but two of the seats for state lawmakers representing parts of the county – a nearly complete reversal of the parties’ positions a decade ago.
In the last five years, the advantage Democrats enjoyed over the GOP in registered county voters shrank from some 25,000 to less than 6,800. Tuesday’s election gave Republicans a majority among the county commissioners for the first time in two decades.
At the heart of the tangled web of litigation were claims that during his tenure as chairman Marinkovich had improperly used $5,195 in committee funds for personal legal bills with committee funds and broken campaign finance laws. Vitteck further accused him of having held onto computers, financial records and other property that belonged to the committee despite the change in leadership.
Marinkovich denied the allegations.
Still, in 2011, DiSalle ordered him to return the money he allegedly spent for personal use and other property of the committee, which Marinkovich denied having kept. After years of additional back-and-forth among the parties, DiSalle ordered Marinkovich to pay the committee another $3,075 for attorney fees in a 2017 order.
Last year, the Superior Court concluded both monetary awards, plus other decisions by DiSalle, were erroneous. The court vacated his orders and sent the case back to Washington County to be declared closed.
In March, the Commonwealth Court upheld a ruling by county President Judge Katherine B. Emery, who had dismissed a 2016 lawsuit Marinkovich brought against Vitteck, Sicchitano and the committee.
Ben Bright, the current chairman, declined to comment on the litigation, but said the group is no longer involved.