Court upholds denial of access card to Vaughn
Bradford County Prothonotary Sally Fairchild Vaughn will not be getting her courthouse access card reinstated after losing it three years ago for being accused of making threats towards courthouse officials.
The decision comes after a court hearing on Nov. 9 where Senior Judge Brendan Vanston heard testimony from Vaughn, Sheriff C.J. Walters, and former Sheriff Steve Evans.
Evans initially revoked the card after Vaughn's former boyfriend Dale Lafy of Ulster accused her of making death threats aimed at various courthouse officials.
At the hearing, Walters sided with Evans claiming that because he is in charge of courthouse security, he wouldn't feel comfortable reinstating Vaughn's access card after the alleged threats were made.
Vaughn, who has worked with the county since 2000 and has served as prothonotary since 2004, will have to continue entering the courthouse through the main entrance without being able to bypass security because of the decision. Vaughn will only be able to enter the courthouse on her own during business hours. If Vaughn wishes to enter the courthouse after hours, a Sheriff's deputy will be made available to give her access provided the money for hours worked by the deputy comes from the prothonotary office's budget.
Since the initial accusations, no charges have been brought against Vaughn as, according to District Attorney Dan Barrett, there were no indications that any steps were taken to carry out the alleged threats.
In the court order, which was issued on Dec. 18, Vanston states, "One would think that [Vaughn] would try to correct any misunderstanding the sheriff may have by providing him facts from which he could conclude that the original allegation were incorrect or exaggerated."
When asked for comment Thursday, Vaughn explained that the opportunity was never given to her to defend herself from the allegations.
The court order also stated, "Given the very specific facts in this case, Sheriff Walters' decision was neither arbitrary nor capricious, that it did not violate any constitutional right of the appellant, and that the facts upon which the Sheriff based his decision are supported by substantial evidence. As a consequence, the appeal will be denied."
Bradford County District Attorney Dan Barrett explained, "If the sheriff's action had the impact of interfering with constitutional rights then the court would look at it very seriously." Barrett went on to say that because the case was not about a constitutional right, Vaughn was possibly at a disadvantage from the beginning.
Barrett noted that he was not extremely familiar with the case, and while he had some knowledge of it, he was not directly involved in any way.
After being elected with 65% of the vote for her most recent term as Prothonotary, Vaughn said she felt like the electorate thought the situation was ridiculous and that is when she decided to pursue an appeal.
When asked about the case, Vaughn said, "For somebody to make accusations about an elected official and then have the sheriff believe those accusations and revoke my access card without doing an inquiry on both sides is ridiculous."
Vaughn said during a conversation with her lawyer she discussed the possibility of continuing to pursue the matter, but also said there are other personal matters that take precedence.
"It's a confusing time for me," Vaughn said. "I have three years left of my term and I am going to try to make the best of it. I have developed a wonderful staff and I'm trying to do the best I can."
Walters, who was listed as lead defendant in the appeal hearing, declined comment Thursday.
Tim Zyla can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.