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Lawsuit alleges fire department negligence

Lawsuit alleges fire department negligent in sex assault case (as published in the Times Leader, 5/24/18) 

WILKES-BARRE — A Back Mountain volunteer fire company was negligent for allowing one of its officers to engage in sexual relations with a junior firefighter who should not have been permitted to join, a suit alleges.

The suit against the Trucksville Volunteer Fire Department and Lt. Joshua James Ralston, 21, was filed on behalf of a minor and the minor’s mother by attorneys Michael A. Lombardo III and Michelle M. Quinn of HKQ Law.

It alleges the department permitted the minor to join the junior firefighter program in July 2016, one year before the minor’s 14th birthday, when minors are eligible to join.

Soon thereafter, Ralston “groomed” the minor by putting his contact information into the minor’s cell phone and sending sexually explicit messages on a social media app before engaging in sexual encounters, the suit alleges.

A message left for Fire Chief Brian Johnson at the fire department was not returned Thursday.

Dallas Township police charged Ralston in August with having a sexual relationship with the minor.

Ralston pleaded guilty to two felony counts of statutory sexual assault and was sentenced Feb. 8 by Luzerne County Judge David W. Lupas to 11 months to 23 months in the county correctional facility, followed by two years on probation. An evaluation by the state Sexual Offenders Assessment Board was not required due to the grading of the statutory sexual assault.

The junior program was coordinated by the fire department without oversight, procedures and safeguards to protect participating minors, and permitted an officer in the fire department, Ralston, to “groom” the minor he admitted to sexually assaulting, the suit says.

The suit alleges the fire department’s environment was a “boys’ club,” comprised of younger men who shared interest in sexual conquests of younger females.

According to the fire department’s website, the junior membership program is open to anyone who is at least 14 years old, and a criminal background and child abuse check are required if older than 18.

About HKQ Law

Hourigan, Kluger & Quinn is considered one of the top civil litigation and commercial law firms that has had the privilege of representing more families in the courtroom than any other NEPA firm. The attorneys at HKQ Law have been honored as Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers, Best Law Firms by US News and World Report, and have received the AV Preeminent Rating by Martindale-Hubbel. HKQ Law was recently recognized for one of the top 20 Verdicts in Pennsylvania.

The firm’s Personal Injury Team, led by Attorney Joe Quinn, Jr., has won some of the largest verdicts and settlements in the region's history. The Personal Injury Team focuses on a wide array of personal injury claims and civil litigation, including medical malpractice, auto and truck accidents, aviation accidents, unsafe vehicles, dangerous or defective products, workplace injuries (worker's compensation), construction site accidents, claim denials by insurance companies, dangerous drugs, defective children's products, nursing home abuse and neglect, and falls due to unsafe conditions (slip and fall).

Attorney Joseph A Quinn, Jr. is one of only 100 attorneys in the United States (and one of only three in Pennsylvania) honored with membership in the Inner Circle of Trial Advocates, and one of only 500 attorneys worldwide chosen to be a Fellow of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers. He has been a Pennsylvania Super Lawyer every year since the program began and has been listed in The Best Lawyers in America every year since the publication was established in 1987. Best Lawyers also named him top personal injury attorney for Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley. In addition, Best Lawyers, in conjunction with U.S. News & World Report, has designated HKQ a Tier 1 Best Law Firm across multiple categories in Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley.

Since the inception of the firm, the Commercial / Corporate Team led by Attorney Allan Kluger has provided comprehensive, integrated legal services to many of Northeastern and Eastern Pennsylvania's largest corporations, businesses, banks, non-profits and institutions, handling matters involving labor and employment, wills, trusts and estate planning, estate administration, elder law, commercial transactions, residential and commercial real estate, zoning, land use and development, telecommunications, mediations and arbitrations, commercial litigation, title insurance, business planning and business succession, corporate/business structuring, employment discrimination law for employers, banking, creditor’s rights, finance, lender liability defense, covenants not to compete, construction law, mergers and acquisitions and other business matters.

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