When you kill a guy you really ought to expect people to ask you about it - especially if you’re running for judge.
Prominent Scranton lawyer, former federal prosecutor and magisterial district judge Jim Gibbons killed a guy.
And now, after winning both the Democratic and Republican nominations in the May 21 primary election, he’s all but a shoo-in for a seat on the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas.
But Gibbons, 55, seems insulted that more and more people are asking about the April 11, 1984 accident that left Jacob T. Topa bleeding on Cedar Avenue after Gibbons slammed into him while Topa was crossing the street.
Topa died in the hospital three days later.
Thirty years later Gibbons’ bid for higher office is alive and well.
Still, his credibility has taken a severe hit.
After ducking my phone calls for three weeks, after I broke the story in two online columns and on the air, Gibbons finally spoke with a local newspaper reporter about the case and the million-dollar wrongful death settlement document that is now missing from the county office charged with safeguarding official court records.
After I requested a copy of the Gibbons settlement last Thursday, Clerk of Judicial Records Mary Rinaldi called to tell me that the report had vanished.
Gibbons also requested a copy and was told about the disappearance. He then went to see county District Attorney Andy Jarbola, who ordered an official investigation into the theft. The soft newspaper story in yesterday’s Times Tribune made it seem as if Gibbons alerted Jarbola to the disappearance.
Jarbola actually knew about the missing court document before Gibbons told him. I had earlier alerted an official at the district attorney’s office about the report. The official dismissed the rumor. But the rumor was true and the file remains missing.
On Tuesday I publicly identified Gibbons on the air as the political candidate who worked diligently with his primary election campaign to keep the story about his role in Topa’s death quiet. I detailed everything I discovered during the three weeks it took for me to feel confident about reporting the details. I also wanted to give Gibbons every opportunity to address this tragedy.
But Gibbons refused to talk with me even after a friend offered to intercede and asked him to speak with me.
Gibbons’ responses in the soft newspaper story that appeared after I first told the story fell short of answering several major questions that still remain. Gibbons told the reporter that he was not drunk at the time of the accident. But we still do not know if he had been drinking in the hours leading up to the crash. Nor do we know why the police failed to test Gibbons for alcohol.
Gibbons also told the reporter that he didn’t try to influence the investigating office by dropping the name of his politically powerful boss – a name the investigating officer made sure to note on his report – when they officer arrived on the scene. Gibbons said he merely answered the question about where he had been before the accident. Gibbons, whose father was a federal judge at the time, was working as a law clerk for federal Judge Richard Conaboy. Gibbons told police he had just dropped off Conaboy at his nearby home.
I left a message yesterday for the vacationing Conaboy – who is a far more powerful judge today than he was 30 years ago – asking if Scranton police had interviewed him after the accident to confirm Gibbons’ story and inquire about Gibbons’ mental and physical condition on the night in question.
That sad night in question remains relevant today.
Gibbons’ defenders have been calling my show for the past two days to berate me on the air for telling a story they do not consider news.
This is news.
That’s why I called Gibbons for the eighth time yesterday to invite him to talk with me on the air. Again, he did not return my call. But I left a message asking him several follow-up questions about the accident and settlement. I also asked who appointed him to sit on the special Interbranch Commission for Juvenile Justice charged with the solemn duty of investigating the “Kids For Cash” scandal in Luzerne County during which two politically powerful county judges sold children into slavery for personal profit.
An alert listener sent me a newspaper article that confirmed how current federal inmate and former state senator Bob Mellow personally appointed Gibbons. Of all the people this admitted criminal and political gangster could have chosen, Mellow chose Gibbons. When this Democratic warlord crashed and burned Gibbons joined the ranks of countless other politically powerful friends of Bob Mellow who simply moved on in their public service without him.
Gibbons’ cruel opportunism now defines him.
And his sad selective silence remains his biggest sin.
When you run for judge, especially after killing a guy, voters expect you to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.