Jury Finds in Favor of Ross Township in Lawsuit Filed Alleging First Amendment Violation

Ross Township resident Bill Ansell filed a lawsuit in 2009 after he was removed from a Ross Township Board of Commissioners meeting. A federal jury delivered a verdict Tuesday in favor of the township and Commissioner Dan DeMarco.

An eight-member jury in federal court found in favor of Ross Township Commissioner Dan DeMarco Tuesday afternoon, saying he did not violate a township resident's First Amendment right to free speech in 2009. 

The lawsuit, William Ansell vs. Ross Township, was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, and was heard by Judge Arthur J. Schwab. 

It stemmed from a complaint by Ansell, of the 100 block of Fairley Road, after he was removed from a meeting on May 11, 2009 at the request of DeMarco, who was chairing the meeting.  

Ansell was removed before he was to address the commission during a public comment period after his brother, Robert, spoke. 

According to the minutes of the meeting, DeMarco said Ansell was removed because he had nothing new to say. DeMarco also testified Monday that he understood that Ansell's brother, Robert, used Bill Ansell's alloted time when he spoke first. 

The jury, made up of six women and two men, listened to a day and a half of testimony. DeMarco, Ansell and Ansell's brother, Robert, were called as witnesses. 

The defense made the case largely about Ansell's credibility. 

"Do you believe William Ansell?" said DeMarco's attorney, Edmond Joyal, in his closing argument. 

In addition to the First Admendment violation, the lawsuit  also alleges retailiation by Ross Township officials for complaints made by Ansell over two years, claiming the Ross Township Police Department broke into his home and searched it without a warrant, that he was issued citations without probable cause, that officers wrote negative and false police reports and targeted his vehicle for parking violations.

Referring to both William and Robert Ansell, Joyal said, "They were citizens who had spent a lot of time telling the board about their grievances." 

DeMarco said after the verdict was read that he wasn't surprised. 

"I never meant to disallow Mr. Ansell to speak because of the content of his speech or who he was," DeMarco said. "Mr. William Ansell and Mr. Robert Ansell have every right to come to a board of Commissioners meeting as long as they conform to the rules established." 

Bill Ansell said he was not happy with the jury's decision. 

"I'm very disappointed," he said. "They've allowed the township to destroy one person's life and that's what they've done to me." 


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