An unusual dispute in the district attorney’s office of the Susquehanna County in Pennsylvania could possibly open the door for appeals by criminal defendants affected by it.
Marion O’Malley the only prosecutor in the country was installed after a county judge ruled that the previous occupant William Urbanski was ineligible to hold the office. Urbanski has sued to appeal the decision alleging that the judge had misinterpreted the state’s residency requirement in regards to district attorneys.
This dispute could however result in “defense lawyers saying the prosecutions are invalid,” according to criminal defense attorney Joe D’Andrea, referring to the cases handled by O’Malley.
New DA Not A Resident
The issue started in 2015 during the election for district attorney.
O’Malley had fought for the top job but lost out to Robert Klein, who named Urbanski as his No. 2.
Klein died in office on Dec 27 after being diagnosed with cancer. Urbanski got himself sworn to the office on New Year’s Day by summoning a magistrate to his farm .
Court of Common Pleas judge, Jason Legg however refused to recognize Urbanski’s taking power citing a state law that mandates that a chief prosecutor must have lived in the county for a minimum of a year. Urbanski is a resident of the nearby Luzerne County the judge noted.
Legg as result installed O’Malley to the office who then fired Urbanski.
Law Provides Automatic Takeover
Urbanski’s challenge of the judge’s decision cites the state law provision under which the first assistant district attorney in smaller counties takes over the office of DA automatically in the event of a vacancy.
According to Urbanski said the residency rules doesn’t apply to him as he became DA by “operation of law.”
O’Malley has responded to this stating in court affidavit that it was an “absurd interpretation” of the residency requirement to say that elected DAs of smaller counties should be a resident of the county, but replacement DAs don’t need to meet the rule despite having “all the same powers and responsibilities.”
The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association has said that its interpretation of the law is similar to that of Urbanski.
A hearing is scheduled for the case on March 5 before a judge of central Pennsylvania. Any appeal in the case would take it to the Supreme Court.