Thursday, March 11, 2021

PA county without a DA?

Luzerne County Council’s decision to declare the office of county district attorney vacant led to chaotic maneuvering, with the district attorney’s office sending seemingly contradictory memos to local police departments about arrests and warrants procedure, reported The Citizens-Voice.

On Tuesday, council declared the district attorney’s seat vacant after longtime District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis filed to run for a seat on the county court of common pleas in the May 18 primary. The county charter stipulates that a district attorney must resign if he or she files a nominating petition for another office.

Salavantis said she will resign as soon as she is certified as a candidate for judge, in about two weeks.

Late Tuesday night, Salavantis said council’s decision to declare a vacancy forced her to seek legal counsel.

First Assistant District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce emailed a memo to police departments in the county, stating the office would not approve search warrants or wiretaps, or authorize charges that require the office’s approval until the vacancy issue was resolved.

“As you may have heard, at last night’s Luzerne County Council meeting, council voted to approve a resolution attempting to remove Stefanie from office based on her filing petitions to run for judge,” Sanguedolce wrote. “Although we believe the action is unlawful, it has raised a question as to whether she is now lawfully the District Attorney under whom we are authorized to effectuate certain acts under the crimes and judicial codes.”

However, an email Sanguedolce sent hours later reversed some of the stipulations in the first memo.

“Based on our internal research and legal discussions, as to approval of search warrants and charges requiring ADA approval, please proceed as you would have prior to council’s action,” he wrote.

In a text message Wednesday night, Sangudolce said the first memo was meant to place a “temporary hold” on some legal procedures until the district attorney’s office could conduct further research.

That research convinced the office to lift the restrictions on approving warrants and charges, he said.

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