Ex-Westmoreland County public defender Bertani says his firing was for political reasons

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Fired in March after 41 years as Westmoreland County's chief public defender, Dante Bertani sued today claiming his dismissal was based not on performance but political affiliation.

Mr. Bertani, of North Huntington, was fired at age 80. But he wants his job back, plus compensation for humiliation and lost wages, as well as punitive damages from the county.

In his complaint, filed by attorney Sam Cordes, Mr. Bertani said he had served as chair of the Westmoreland County Democratic Committee.

When Republicans Charles Anderson and Tyler Courtney became the majority commissioners in January, the balance of power in the county's courthouse tipped to the GOP for the first time in a half-century, according to the complaint.

Mr. Anderson told Mr. Bertani to retire, according to the complaint.

But the public defender refused.

So the majority commissioners fired him and replaced him with Wayne McGrew, a Republican who had made several past bids for county office.

Reporters learned of the firing before Mr. Bertani did, according to the complaint.

The firing violated Mr. Bertani's rights of free association and equal protection, according to the complaint.

Along with the county, Mr. Anderson and Mr. Courtney are the named defendants.

"Pennsylvania law recognizes [the public defender] as being an at-will employee," Westmoreland County solicitor Mark Gesalman said. "Any appointed civil officer may be removed at the pleasure of the appointing authority. ... There doesn't have to be any kind of just-cause reason. So the board of commissioners was free to select someone who they had they confidence in to perform the required responsibilities."

breaking - neigh_westmoreland

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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