Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Bucks investigating official for invalid subpoena

A coordinator in the Prothonotary's Office signed, stamped and served a subpoena without the existence of a civil case, officials said. He is still on the job while the DA's Office investigates.

Bucks investigating official for invalid subpoena

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District Attorney David Heckler said his office is looking into George Fox's actions.

A Bucks County official is under investigation for using his position to serve an invalid subpoena, county officials said Tuesday.

George Fox, a coordinator in the Prothonotary’s Office, served the subpoena to a Tullytown Borough business last month to get security videos, District Attorney David Heckler said.

Fox, 65, a former Tullytown councilman, was looking for evidence that borough Councilwoman May Kutcher had taken signs advertising a political website that he supports, Heckler said.

There is no evidence that Fox committed a crime, Heckler said, though his staff is looking into the matter.

“There is a specific law for impersonating a police officer, but there is no such law for being a deputy prothonotary and issuing or serving a subpoena when you know there isn’t a case,” Heckler said.

“There are more general statutes which might well have been violated,” he added.

The county’s website has downloadable subpoena forms for lawyers and complainants to fill out and get signed and stamped at the Prothonotary’s Office. The subpoena must be for a pending civil case, with the case number posted on the subpoena.

The subpoena “is invalid without the case number,” Prothonotary Patricia Bachtle said.

Fox’s subpoena did not have a case number, because there was no civil case, Heckler said. Fox signed and stamped it and served it at Farm and Home Oil on Levittown Parkway, near where he had displayed signs for www.tullytownnews.com.

Fox is not authorized to serve subpoenas, Heckler said. He is authorized to sign and stamp them, Bachtle said.

Bachtle declined to discuss the case further, pending the district attorney’s investigation. She did say that Fox was still on the job. He has worked in the Prothonotary’s Office for seven years and has a salary of $44,616.

Fox declined to comment about the investigation or the subpoena.

Fox filed a complaint about the missing signs on Sept. 8, and Tullytown police consulted with Heckler’s office. On Sept. 13, police told Fox they would not be investigating his complaint because Heckler’s office had determined it was not a criminal matter.

Fox responded that “they stole his signs and that he would handle the matter himself,” according to a police report.

The next day, he served the subpoena, but employees at Farm and Home Oil contacted police about it. Police passed it along to Heckler’s office.

Invalid subpoenas pop up occasionally, county Court Administrator Douglas Praul said..

The forms are downloaded by a lawyer or a person representing himself or herself, “but they usually don’t fabricate an entire case,” said Praul, who is not involved in the Fox case.

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About this blog
Chris Palmer covers Bucks County for the Philadelphia Inquirer. His previous work has appeared in the New York Times and on several Times blogs, including City Room, the Local East Village and SchoolBook (which has since been taken over by WNYC). Contact him at cpalmer@phillynews.com, 610 313 8212 or on Twitter, @cs_palmer.

Ben Finley covers Bucks County for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He previously worked for The Associated Press, FactCheck.org and the Bucks County Courier Times, where he won more than a dozen journalism awards from organizations including the Education Writers Association, the Society for Features Journalism and the Pennsylvania Bar Association. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio and graduated with honors from The Ohio State University with a degree in journalism. Contact him at bfinley@phillynews.com, 610-313-8118 or on Twitter, @Ben_Finley.

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