Lawyer: Four in Bensalem didn't invoke the Fifth

Posted: February 23, 2014

BENSALEM Attorneys for Bensalem's mayor, police chief, and two other department employees on Friday denied allegations that they invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering questions about criminal charges filed against the son of an outspoken township critic.

In a statement, one of the lawyers, John Morgenstern, called such an assertion "a grave misrepresentation of the truth."

Morgenstern was responding to a filing in a federal civil rights lawsuit, reported this week by The Inquirer, that said Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo and Public Safety Director Frederick Harran, Deputy Public Safety Director Patrick Ponticelli, and Detective John Monaghan invoked their right against self-incrimination to avoid answering questions about criminal charges filed against the son of former Union Fire Company Chief David Jerri Sr.

Jerri and his son, also named David, contend that Harran and the others fabricated insurance fraud and theft charges against the younger Jerri in 2012 as part of an intimidation campaign that ultimately led the fire chief to resign.

The Jerris said in court filings that the township officials had cited the Fifth Amendment in declining to answer some questions from their lawyer.

Noting such an unusual response, U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson had ordered a hearing next month to review evidence.

Harran, Morgenstern, and the other defendants had declined requests from The Inquirer this week to discuss the claims.

But Friday, the lawyer sent the judge a letter and amended a filing in the case to address the issue. His statement said he amended the defendants' responses to clarify "in plain English that no Fifth Amendment privilege" was being used by DiGirolamo, Harran, Ponticelli, or Monaghan.

In his statement, Morgenstern said he had formally objected to having his clients answer written questions - also known as interrogatories - submitted by the Jerris' lawyer last fall as part of the pretrial routine of sharing evidence during litigation.

One of his objections said that answering the questions "could potentially implicate" his clients' Fifth Amendment rights. But none of the officials actually invoked the right, Morgenstern said Friday.

"I do not intend to assert any such privilege on their behalf," his statement said. "We have nothing to hide."

The younger Jerri was acquitted of theft and insurance fraud in late 2012. With their lawsuit, he and his father are seeking financial damages and reinstatement.

Their lawyer, Brian Wiley, did not return messages Friday for comment.

The personal attorney for DiGirolamo and Harran, Neil A. Morris, said that there had been no depositions in the case yet and that the officials were still seeking to have the case dismissed.

609-217-8305 @cs_palmer

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