Attorneys

State lawmakers to debate payments that might have an effect on Luzerne County district attorney alternative

The state House next week is poised to consider legislation that could determine how Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis is replaced if she follows through with plans to resign or if the county council’s vote to oust her is upheld.

It depends when and if Salavantis no longer holds the office and when and if the bill is signed into law.

A series of bills, already passed by a bipartisan vote in the state Senate, would streamline the process of filling vacancies by mandating the first assistant takes over whenever a vacancy occurs in the district attorney’s office.

The impact of a pending issue like this usually comes up in the debate over bills and could in this case, said state Rep. Aaron Kaufer, R-120, of Kingston.

“Those things come up in conversation,” Kaufer said.

A majority of Luzerne County Council recently voted to vacate the office of district attorney because Salavantis filed petitions to run for Luzerne County judge, which they say violates the county’s home rule charter.

When she announced she was running for judge, Salavantis said she would resign after she was officially a candidate — or around March 25 after the deadline to challenge petitions or withdraw as a candidate. She has maintained state law doesn’t require she resign to run for judge and also that the council doesn’t have the power to remove her.

Salavantis’ status is most assuredly heading for a court fight — and the outcome could factor into who becomes Salavantis’ replacement.

The proposed legislation that mandates the first assistant district attorney take over would take effect immediately, but only would affect vacancies that occur after the law is passed.

Kaufer said the bills would be voted out of committee Monday and then could be voted on by the entire House during the week. From there, the bills would be sent to Gov. Tom Wolf for consideration. He would have 10 days to sign them, veto them, or do nothing. If no action was taken in 10 days, the bills would become law.

“The administration is monitoring the proposed legislation,” said Rachel Kostelac, deputy press secretary for Wolf. “As the bills move through the legislative process, changes could occur and would be reviewed if and when the legislation would arrive on the Governor’s desk.”

If Wolf signs the legislation into law prior to Salavantis’ position being declared vacant, Luzerne County First Assistant District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce would be in line to be appointed to the position if he wanted to accept. The legislation says the appointment has to be a person from the same political party as the current district attorney, in this case a Republican.

Luzerne County Judge Michael Vough has said if a vacancy is declared prior to the proposed bill becoming law, state law says the county judges would seek applicants and choose a district attorney. That person does not have to be from the same political party.

Either action could lead to further controversy and litigation because the county’s home rule charter says that a majority of county council selects a district attorney in case of a vacancy.

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