Downs V. Jenkintown: The Civil Rights Lawsuit So Far

On October 23, 2018 David and Margaret Downs filed suit against the Borough of Jenkintown in Federal court for violating their civil rights. The suit named the Borough and its manager, George Locke, Council President Deborra Sines-Pancoe, then-Council Vice-President Rick Bunker, and Borough Solicitor Sean Kilkenny.

Mr. Bunker owns a pharmaceutical business and Ms. Sines-Pancoe serves as an associate director for the Abington Friends School.

The suit is on-going. The Borough has so far filed two motions to dismiss the suit and succeeded in only in having Mr. Kilkenny removed from the complaint because he serves as the Borough’s counsel. In other words, you can’t sue the lawyer for conspiring with his or her own clients.

However, the First Amendment claims remain against Bunker and Pancoe as individuals and against Locke as both an individual and in his official capacity, as well as the Borough itself.

Suspected political vendetta

The Downs’ find basis in their claim due to the fact that they were notified of zoning violation one month after the 2017 election, where Margaret Downs ran an unsuccessful write-in run for mayor garnering 31% of the vote.

In June 2018, the Downs’ appealed to the Jenkintown Zoning Hearing Board. Over three sessions and more than nine hours of testimony, on July 11, 2018 the Board tossed out the violation by a vote of 5-0, supporting public sentiment that the Borough had conducted a political vendetta.

In their court filings, the Borough still maintains that the Downs’ are running an impactful business out of their home, despite the lack of presented evidence supporting that claim.

Cost to Borough taxpayers

By the time of the ZHB’s vote, the cost of the Borough’s prosecution of their complaint cost Jenkintown taxpayers nearly $20,000, mostly in legal fees to the Kilkenny Law office.

While it’s safe to assume that Kilkenny’s office still counsels the Borough regarding this matter, its insurance policy currently covers the cost of the defense attorney, Suzanne McDonough of Holsten & Associates in Media, Pennsylvania.