Andy Ostrowski, candidate for the 2014 Democratic Party nomination for Pennsylvania’s Eleventh Congressional District, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Hazleton on Friday, March 7, alleging First Amendment freedom of speech violations as well as breaches of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Pennsylvania Constitution. This filing action was taken on behalf of his petitioners and campaign. The Ostrowski for Congress campaign reported to the Independent Gazette on Wednesday, March 5, that a campaign volunteer, while collecting nomination signatures on a pubic sidewalk for Ostrowski in Hazleton, was accosted and detained by a Hazleton police officer who claimed that, according to a city ordinance, she needed to secure a $50 permit to engage in the petitioning. When the Ostrowski worker could not produce any such documentation the unidentified police officer allegedly proceeded to confiscate her petition sheets, which bore more than 60 signatures.
Commenting on the lawsuit, Ostrowski wrote in an email to supporters the day of the alleged incident, “This is a colossal violation of not only hers and my First Amendment rights, but of all of yours as well. . . . though I need to get out on the streets and keep gathering my own signatures, I do not expect to wait to do this, because it is [a] disruption to the process in which we are involved right now.” He further explained in an email to the Gazette:
This lawsuit typifies exactly the type of abuse and oppression I have fought against as civil rights lawyer, and exactly the type of abuse and oppression I will fight against for the citizens of the 11th Congressional district and the people of the United States in Congress. We’re losing our country, and it is time to give government back to the people. I have contacted the Luzerne County District Attorney, and will be contacting the United States Attorney as well. I want my signatures, and I want to run for Congress unimpeded by this kind of abuse.
Presumably, action taken against a nomination petition circulator would be prompted by a city’s solicitation ordinance. However, Hazleton Chief of Police Frank DeAndrea indicated to the Gazette that circulation of a nomination petition would not fall under the requirements of the city’s 1995 “Peddling and Soliciting” ordinance. Chief DeAndrea stated, “My interpretation of getting signatures would not fall under the definition of soliciting,” claiming to be unaware of any petitioning incident occurring on March 5. That 1995 Hazleton ordinance does require “peddlers” and “solicitors” to register with the city’s police chief as well as produce evidence of such registration to “all police officers, City officials and citizens” upon demand.
The seven-page complaint alleges, among other things, that “Officer Doe and other employees for the City of Hazleton are knowingly engaged, unlawfully, in actions to intentionally impede and harm Mr. Ostrowski in the form of supportive efforts for the incumbent Congressman [Barletta], and at his overt behest.”
According to the Ostrowski campaign website, Ostrowski earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Millersville University in 1988, followed by a Juris Doctorate from Widener University School of Law in 1992, where he ranked second in a class of about 150 law students. As a judicial reform advocate he has “supported and advocated for dozens of American citizens who have been harmed by the shortcomings of the current judicial process.”