In a surprise move, a majority of the Luzerne County Council voted on Tuesday to retain the services of an outside lawyer and seek a court ruling on whether the district attorney’s race should be on the ballot in the elections November general.
Republican Sam Sanguedolce, previously First Assistant DA, was automatically appointed to the post on March 25, when Stefanie Salavantis resigned because she is running for county judge.
Lawyers have offered conflicting interpretations on the length of Sanguedolce’s appointment under new state law governing DA vacancies. A majority of the county’s electoral board ruled last month that the race should take place in the Nov. 2 ballot, with the county’s Democratic and Republican Party organizations each being able to choose a candidate.
Sanguedolce would be the likely Republican candidate. County manager C. David Pedri has been widely named as a potential Democratic candidate, but has not made an official statement on his candidacy.
Under the resolution of the council, he will form an ad hoc committee appointed by the chairman of the council, Tim McGinley, to select an outside lawyer to represent the council and ask the courts to “take the matter to the courts for a consideration. impartial decision âon the action of the electoral council.
The council’s action was pro-party, with positive votes from six Republicans – Walter Griffith, Harry Haas, LeeAnn McDermott, Chris Perry, Kendra Radle and Stephen J. Urban. All five Democratic Council members voted no: Linda McClosky Houck, McGinley, Sheila Saidman, Robert Schnee and Matthew Vough.
Perry’s son-in-law is the new DA First Assistant Anthony G. Ross. Perry said he did not abstain because the resolution sought a court resolution on a complex legal issue involving new state law. This did not require him to “take a stand for or against the prosecutor’s office or its administration,” he said.
Council members had a long debate on the issue.
McClosky Houck said she did not believe the council had standing to challenge the electoral council’s decision. The Republican Party could file a challenge if it “doesn’t like the date,” but the bill should not “go to council,” she said.
McGinley said the election calendar is “clearly a decision of the electoral board” which can be challenged by others if warranted. He argued that the council should “stay away” from the decisions of the independent electoral council.
But McDermott said two of the five electoral board members abstained from the decision because they could not interpret the conflicting legal opinions presented to them, and she asked why there was a “rush” for the council decides.
Stressing that she is not taking a position, McDermott said lawyers on both sides “have made a very good case,” but many still disagree on what was right.
She upheld the plan to get another legal opinion and the court ruling was not political or an attack on the county law firm.
The new statute stipulates that the first assistant DA is in function “until the first Monday of January following the next municipal election which will take place at least 90 days after the occurrence of the vacancy”.
Deputy County Attorney Michael Butera argued that the race could not be entered on the ballot before the 2023 primary because candidates must be selected in a primary in a municipal election year and that the vacancy came too late for the candidates to appear for the primary on May 18.
However, attorney Joseph M. Cosgrove, who was retained by the county law office to give an opinion, has taken a stand that the new statute requires the DA race to be on the ballot in November. because it is the next municipal election. County chief prosecutor Romilda Crocamo agreed with Cosgrove’s interpretation.
Radle said she was not “choosing a side”, but wondered why Butera’s opinion had not been accepted when he had provided “solid” guidance on electoral matters for years. She argued that the council should be proactive in seeking further clarification on “an extremely complex legal matter”.
Griffith said he helped Radle draft the resolution at his request. He called on Pedri to reveal if he would apply for the job, saying the unknown factor is “the elephant in the room” and raising questions about whether decisions are being made “to put certain people in the position”.
McGinley said the decision to seek the seat is “personal” for Pedri, and Pedri has not offered an answer on his plan. Pedri would have to relinquish his post because the director cannot run for elected public office unless he / she resigns first, the charter says the county domicile rule.
Urban said he felt there was “an agenda behind the scenes” and that the matter should be decided by a judge.
Deputy lawyer Vito DeLuca said Cosgrove’s opinion was sought because the “consensus opinion” among lawyers in the county’s legal division differed from that of Butera.
Crocamo said she presented Butera’s dissenting opinion to the electoral committee to be as transparent as possible and that there was “no bias” on the part of the lawyers weighing in on the matter. She asked the electoral council to decide now to allow time for possible legal challenges and said the electoral council has the option to postpone a decision if members feel they need more time.
Bradford County also has a vacant DA position and will hold its election in November, Crocamo added.
DeLuca also said he did not believe the council had the legal capacity to challenge the electoral council’s decision in court, but said the law firm would respect the council’s majority decision.
McGinley announced at the end of Tuesday’s working session that Radle would chair the ad hoc committee. McDermott will serve as vice president and McGinley will be a member as well, he said.
In other cases, the council has begun to debate a motion for a resolution suggesting the implementation of a Second Amendment “sanctuary” declaration for the county, modeled on that approved by Butler Township supervisors and several other counties.
Saidman and McClosky Houck raised concerns shared by several citizens.