It's good to see that a Huntingdon woman beat a government Goliath, even if it took the assistance of a panel of judges with a sense of fairness to make it happen.
After being pursued for years for $41,250 in penalties racked up by her now former husband for violations of the Clean Streams Law, Eva Giordano came out on top when a four-member Environmental Hearing Board ordered the state Department of Environmental Protection to reimburse the Huntingdon resident the nearly $12,000 she had accumulated in attorney's fees defending herself.
The board also took DEP to the proverbial woodshed for its efforts to force Giordano to pay the penalties incurred by her former husband, Kirk E. Danfelt, stating, it was "an unjust claim that was filed under an unproven theory and untimely withdrawn."
The troubles stemmed from 2007 when DEP found Danfelt violated the Clean Streams Law at three logging sites in Fulton County. Those complaints eventually resulted in a $41,250 judgment.
Because Danfelt and Giordano had married in April 27, 2007, DEP sought to make both parties equally liable for paying the judgment, an effort the hearing board called "a stretch" since the agency had no evidence that Giordano had any role in committing the violations.
On Sept. 22, 2011, DEP withdrew its effort to force Giordano to pay the civil penalties for the streams law violations, but by that time, she had accumulated nearly $12,000 in attorney's fees and costs. She then filed with the hearing board, seeking reimbursement.
Danfelt is now solely responsible for the penalty.
The hearing board agreed that DEP overstepped its bounds in pursuing Giordano "under new or evolving legal theories that have little or no basis in Pennsylvania law."
The board added, "In their zeal to locate and penalize Danfelt, [DEP] unjustly forced Giordano to defend herself and pressured her to pay Danfelt's civil penalty."
DEP was ordered to pay Giordano's $11,904.50 in legal costs.
DEP reportedly is considering appealing the award.
People generally understand when government has to take a hard line against a lawbreaker. But the innocent shouldn't have to face financial hardship to defend themselves against overzealous bureaucrats who just want to collect money, even if their targets aren't at fault.
As the Environmental Hearing Board noted, DEP was wrong in going after Giordano.
The agency should pay the reimbursement, apologize and learn from its mistakes.