Your Local News | Allentown, Bethlehem & Easton
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Criminal Justice

Judge carries over some criminal charges over raucous Northampton County Republican Committee meeting

Lehigh Valley Public Media file photo
Steve Lynch is one of four Northampton County Republican Committee members charged with harassing people at a June 2023 committee meeting.

EASTON, Pa. — A magisterial district judge advanced criminal charges against four Northampton County State Republican Committee members Friday afternoon in a bizarre case involving pornography and the limits of political discourse.

In a private criminal complaint, Northampton County Republican Committee Chair Glenn Geissinger argued that Debra Biro, Melanie Heilman, Steve Lynch and Richard Morea interrupted the June 8, 2023, meeting of the Northampton County Republican Committee to the point that it descended into chaos.

Their behavior, he argued, rose to the level of criminal conduct.

Senior Magisterial District Judge Jackie Taschner ruled counts of harassment and conspiracy to commit harassment against each defendant should proceed to Northampton County Court.

Taschner threw out summary offenses of disorderly conduct and conspiracy to conduct disorderly conduct, ruling the defendants couldn't disturb the public at a private meeting where only Republicans were welcome.

However, the harassment charges proved to be more of a gray area.

“At this point, I think that's a question for a jury to decide,” Taschner said.

An anonymous email over pornography

Hours before the NCRC met at its Bethlehem Township headquarters, an anonymous source had emailed pornographic images of two committee members to several other committee members, saying the images were publicly available on the website PornHub.com.

Biro, Heilman, Lynch and Morea showed up at the meeting with supporters to demand the couple's immediate removal, several witnesses testified.

The exchange was tense from the start. Geissinger testified that he hadn't received a copy of the email at the time, causing Morea to yell that he was lying to protect the couple. When Geissinger determined the accusation needed to be referred to another committee to investigate and authenticate, tempers rose, he said.

At one point, Morea got inches away from Geissinger's nose and screamed for him to do his job, Geissinger said.

"This is free speech. This is public debate. ...This is, for better or worse, how things get done."
Defense attorney Christopher Shipman, arguing his clients engaged in heated but legal political discourse

When asked to replicate the volume and discourse of the exchange, Geissinger bellowed, "You will absolutely do this right now" so loudly it reverberated across Courtroom 4 of the Northampton County Courthouse.

The group at the June 2023 meeting shouted down Geissinger, vice chair Andrew Azan and several other committee members, shoving printouts of the email into people's faces and demanding the images be displayed for the committee to review, testified Shawn Welch, a former Saucon Valley School Board member who attended the meeting.

At one point, the committee's gavel broke; witnesses gave conflicting testimony about whether Geissinger broke it trying to bring the meeting to order or whether Morea broke it while screaming at Geissinger.

Things got so heated that members adjourned the meeting in hopes of de-escalating the situation, Azan testified. Instead, Lynch and Morea stormed up to Geissinger and Azan to demand the couple's immediate removal.

When Azan asked Lynch why he's always trying to intimidate people, Lynch doubled down, Azan said.

But at that point, another fight had nearly broken out in the parking lot between now Northampton Area School Board Director Brian McCulloch and his primary opponent, McCulloch testified. The two men ultimately didn't come to blows; all witnesses agreed that outside of some accidental jostling, no one made physical contact with anyone during the rowdy meeting.

By some testimony, the June meeting was tamer than some past ones. Scott Janey testified that he was intimidated by the four defendants, especially Lynch and Morea. In September 2022, the committee had to call police to a meeting at The Farm & Table restaurant in Nazareth after some of the defendants got so rambunctious that people were screaming and climbing onto tables.

Janey and Welch noted Lynch and Morea were younger, larger and more aggressive than most of those in attendance. Committee members tend to be senior citizens, and the four defendants could be intimidating, they said.

A controversial recording

The defense presented an audio recording of the meeting that McColluch took on his phone. The clip, maybe 10 minutes long, caught a portion of the meeting.

The discussion started appropriately as someone — none of the speakers were identified in court — asked the couple if they were depicted in pornographic material online. After they denied it, the debate grew heated and eventually indecipherable as people shouted over one another and Geissinger attempted to gavel the meeting to order.

"This needs to be addressed! We have the website and we have photos!"
"The two of them should resign!"
"Are you the judge and jury? Did they break the law?"
"Stop yelling fer God's sakes."

The recording stopped before the argument ended, McColluch said.

Even the audio clip wasn't without controversy. McColluch may have violated state law when he made the recording on the phone without the knowledge and consent of those present.

At Taschner's insistence, defense attorney Christopher Shipman had to warn him that he could be exposing himself to criminal liability by making the recording part of the public record in court.

In his closing arguments, Shipman agreed the meeting was unruly, but no more than some heated municipal meetings or sessions of the U.S. Senate. The defendants had a legitimate concern about two members of the committee, and they had a right to bring the matter to the attention of their fellow Republicans, he said. Allowing the private criminal complaint to advance would amount to criminalizing the foundation of American democracy, he argued.

Defense attorney Andrew Teitelman argued Geissinger was abusing the criminal justice system to advance his political goals. Lynch and Geissinger ran against each other to be committee chair, and factions have developed within its members.

Friday's hearing was packed at the start of the day with a number of local political figures in attendance. McCulloch, Welch and Geissinger, a former Northampton County councilman, testified from the stand, and Lynch ran unsuccessfully for Northampton County executive in 2021.

Observing the hearing from the gallery were former Northampton County Councilman Ron Angle; former Lehigh County Commissioner and congressional candidate Lisa Scheller; Republican National Convention delegate Patrick Cubbage; and Northampton County Democratic Committee Chair Matt Munsey.

EDITOR'S NOTE: LehighValleyNews.com is withholding the names of the couple depicted in the pornographic image. They did not testify in the hearing and have not been accused of a crime.