District Attorney Misconduct Unites Pennsylvania Legislators 

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By Regan Jarvis, Staff Writer

In 2021 alone, over 3,000 bills were introduced into the House and Senate and 100 laws were enacted in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.[1] One of those laws, identified as Act 88 of 2021, may have flown under the radar if it were not a swift response to the scandals plaguing the district attorney’s offices of Pennsylvania.[2] On November 17, 2021, Governor Tom Wolf signed into law a state Senate bill deeming the office of the district attorney vacant if circumstances arise in which an incumbent district attorney is disbarred.[3] [4] Further, if the incumbent district attorney’s license to practice law is merely suspended, the district attorney is subsequently suspended from their elected duties pending the reinstatement of the license or end of their term.[5] SB420 was passed unanimously by the General Assembly shortly after Somerset District Attorney Jeffrey L. Thomas, II was arrested on violent felony charges and was issued a temporary suspension of his law license by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.[6]  

On September 22, 2021, Thomas was taken into custody on charges of rape, indecent assault, strangulation, simple assault, and criminal trespass.[7] A state police report indicated that these charges were in connection to an alleged attack on a Windber woman in her home days prior.[8] The report details that Thomas was asked by the victim to leave the premises before he proceeded to physically and sexually assault her.[9] According to police report, Thomas knew the victim in a professional capacity and had entered her home uninvited on a previous occasion.[10] Further, the report indicated that Thomas “routinely [drove] around her residence.”[11] Thomas was released the morning following his arrest after posting $5,000 bail.[12] Pennsylvania attorney general, Josh Shapiro called the allegations, “deeply disturbing” and commended the victim for her bravery in coming forward.[13]

This incident was not Thomas’ first run in with the law. In October 2020, Thomas was charged with disorderly conduct and harassment in connection with alleged incidents in Cambria County, Pennsylvania.[14] In the first of the two alleged incidents, Thomas was cited for disorderly conduct for creating “a hazardous, physically offensive condition using obscene language in public places of business serving no legitimate purpose,” at Capri Pizza in Richland Township.[15]The harassment citation was issued for “physical contact with threats to engage in a physical altercation” at Uzelac Gymnastics, also in Richland Township, according to police.[16]

Pursuant to his alleged criminal conduct, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania issued a temporary suspension of Thomas’ license to practice law under the Pennsylvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement Rule 208(f), effective October 27, 2021.[17] The Court Order reads, “[t]his order should not be construed as removing Respondent from elected office and is limited to the temporary suspension of his license to practice law.”[18] Because Thomas declined to resign from his elected post, he continued to receive his $185,000 salary until after the November 2021 change in Pennsylvania law.[19]Thomas is no longer listed as the District Attorney on Somerset County’s official website as of the time of publication of this article.[20]

Further driving Pennsylvania legislators to address the deficiency in Pennsylvania law was an earlier 2021 scandal occurring in Bradford County, Pennsylvania. In May 2021, Bradford County District Attorney Chad Salsman pled guilty to charges of witness intimidation, promoting prostitution, and obstruction of justice.[21] Prior to being elected to serve as the Branford County district attorney in 2019, Salsman practiced as a criminal defense attorney where he purportedly preyed on vulnerable women seeking help with child custody cases and criminal charges.[22]

In February 2021, Salsman was arrested and charged with fifteen crimes including several counts of sexual assault and witness intimidation.[23] [24] The criminal complaint included testimony of five victims and detailed sexual harassment and rape at the hands of Salsman.[25] It further alleged that he coerced female clients who were unable to afford his services into sending explicit photographs and engaging in sexual acts with him.[26] Salsman’s staff testified that they were asked to turn on music or the air conditioning to mask sounds coming from his office.[27] His staff further testified that female clients were often seen leaving Salsman’s office in distress or in tears.[28] Although most of the incidents occurred during Salsman’s tenure as a defense attorney, one assault occurred in 2019, after his election to the office of District Attorney, but prior to being sworn in, according to the prosecution.[29] Attorney General Shapiro stated that Salsman continued to intimidate victims after being sworn in.[30]

After Salsman’s arrest, The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a temporary suspension of his license to practice law.[31]Salsman was subsequently disbarred after pleading guilty to several of the counts and was sentenced to 1.5 to 5 years in prison. [32] [33] Salsman resigned from the position of Bradford County District Attorney as a condition of his plea deal.[34] A new Bradford County District Attorney, Albert Ondrey, was appointed and sworn into office in June 2021.[35] It was reported that prior to his resignation, Salsman planned to continue serving as the District Attorney during the time that his case was pending.[36]

Act 88 of 2021, the proverbial damage control that was passed in response to the flagrant district attorney misconduct, unsurprisingly originated in Pennsylvania’s 23rd district. The 23rd district houses Bradford County and is represented by Republican State Senator Gene Yaw who sponsored SB420.[37] On his official website, Senator Yaw stated that the new law will “establish safeguards so that the office of District Attorney [will] continue to operate uninterrupted in the event of a suspension of the law license or disbarment from the practice of law of a sitting District Attorney.”[38] SB420 was originally introduced on March 12, 2021, the month after the arrest of Salsman, and was amended on September 28, 2021, only six days after the arrest of Thomas.[39] Lawmakers in both chambers of the General Assembly voted unanimously to pass the bill.[40] Republican State Representative Carl Walker Metzgar abstained from voting due to a conflict of interest; his wife, Molly Metzgar, is the first assistant district attorney in Somerset County and was named Acting District Attorney in the wake of the Thomas scandal.[41] However, Rep. Metzgar expressed his support for the measure.[42]

In the wake of Pennsylvania district attorney’s office scandals, legislators reacted quickly, and the Commonwealth seems to have returned to business as usual. However, almost as unsettling as the misconduct by elected officials, is that prior to Act 88 of 2021, under Pennsylvania law, district attorneys under investigation for violent crimes could still perform their prosecutorial duties despite the status of their law license. Republican State Senator Pat Stefano called the new law merely, “procedural,” which leaves Pennsylvania citizens wondering: what other “procedural” common-sense measures are missing from Pennsylvania code?[43]   

Presently, The Disciplinary Board for the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania lists Salsman’s current address as the State Correctional Institution at Mercer in Mercer, Pennsylvania.[44] Thomas pleaded “not guilty” to the charges in the alleged Windber attack.[45] He faces 50 years in prison if found guilty.[46] All parties are assumed innocent until proven guilty. 

The toll-free number for the National Sexual Assault Hotline is 1-800-656-4673.[47]

[1] Jan Murphy, Fifteen Pennsylvania Laws That Could Affect Your Life, Pitt. Post-Gazette, (sub. req.) (Dec. 29, 2021, 11:43 AM), https://www.post-gazette.com/news/politics-state/2021/12/29/Fifteen-Pennsylvania-laws-2021-affect-your-life/stories/202112310023.

[2] Judy D. J. Ellich, Somerset Solicitor: ‘All Options Will Be on the Table, Including Suspension of (DA’s) Pay,’ Daily Am., (Nov. 17, 2021, 3:13 PM), https://www.dailyamerican.com/ story/news/2021/11/17/pa-governor-signs-into-law-bill-may-stop-da-thomas-pay/8652994002/ (last updated Nov. 17, 2021, 3:47 PM). 

[3] 2021, Pa. 1955 Act 30 § 1404(b).  

[4] Somerset County DA Accused of Sexual Assault Loses Pay Under New Law, TribLive, (Dec. 1, 2021, 12:02 PM), https://triblive.com/local/regional/somerset-county-da-accused-of-sexual-assault-loses-pay-under-new-law/.

[5] Id.  

[6] Id.

[7] Jared Weaver, Somerset County District Attorney Charged with Rape, WTAJ, (Sept. 22, 2021, 9:34 PM), https://www.wearecentralpa.com/news/local-news/somerset-county-district-attorney-charged-with-rape/?ipid=promo-link-block2 (last updated Oct. 27, 2021, 5:10 PM). 

[8] Alyssa Lukpat, Pennsylvania Prosecutor Charged in Rape at Woman’s Home, Police Say, N.Y. Times, (sub. req.) (Sept. 24, 2021), https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/24/us/jeffrey-lynn-thomas-rape-pennsylvania-da.html (last updated Oct. 14, 2021).

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id. 

[13] Id.

[14] Somerset County DA Faces Charges After Incidents in Cambria County, WTAJ, (Oct. 20, 2020, 3:31 PM), https://www.wearecentralpa.com/news/local-news/somerset-county-da-faces-summary-citations-after-incident-in-cambria-county/?ipid=promo-link-block2 (last updated Feb. 16, 2021, 3:36 PM). 

[15] Somerset County DA Facing 2 Summary Citations Following Incidents in Cambria County (DA), WJAC, (Oct. 20, 2020), https://wjactv.com/news/local/somerset-county-da-facing-2-summary-citations-following-incident-in-cambria-county-da.

[16] Id.

[17] Thomas, Jeffrey Lynn, II, The Disciplinary Bd. of the Sup. Ct. of Pa., https://www.padisciplinaryboard.org/for-the-public/find-attorney/attorney-detail/319577.

[18] Order, Oct. 27, 2021. 

[19] TribLive, supra.

[20] District Attorney, Somerset Cty. Gov’t, http://www.co.somerset.pa.us/


[21] George Stockburger, Former Bradford County DA Chad Salsman Sentenced to 1.5 to 5 Years in Prison, WETM, (Jul. 9, 2021, 11:05 AM), https://www.mytwintiers.com/news-cat/local-news/former-bradford-county-da-chad-salsman-to-be-sentenced-on-friday/ (last updated Jul. 9, 2021, 6:24 PM).  

[22] Michael Levenson, District Attorney Charged in Sexual Assaults on Former Clients, N.Y. Times, (sub. req.) (Feb. 7, 2021), https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/07/us/chad-salsman-sexual-assault.html (last updated Oct. 14, 2021).

[23] Id.

[24] Bradford Co DA Chad Salsman Pleads Guilty, Announces Resignation, WENY News, (May 7, 2021, 7:46 PM), https://www.weny.com/story/43845045/bradford-co-da-chad-salsman-pleads-guilty-announces-resignation-updated.

[25] Stockburger, Former Bradford County DA Chad Salsman Sentenced to 1.5 to 5 Years in Prison, supra.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Levenson, supra.

[30] Id.

[31] Order, Mar. 25, 2021. 

[32] Order, Aug. 17, 2021.  

[33] Stockburger, Former Bradford County DA Chad Salsman Sentenced to 1.5 to 5 Years in Prison, supra.

[34] George Stockburger, Bradford County District Attorney Chad Salsman Pleads Guilty, Resigns amid Sexual Assault Investigation, WETM, (May 7, 2021, 11:08 AM), https://www.mytwintiers.com/

news-cat/top-stories/bradford-county-district-attorney-chad-salsman-pleads-guilty-resigns-amid-sexual-assault-investigation/?ipid=promo-link-block1 (last updated May 10, 2021, 6:09 PM).  

[35] Nicole Rogers, New Bradford County District Attorney Sworn in, Pa. Homepage, (Jun. 2, 2021, 12:55PM), https://www.pahomepage.com/top-stories/new-bradford-county-district-attorney-sworn-in/ (Last Updated Jun. 2, 2021, 6:13 PM).

[36] TribLive, supra.

[37] Ellich, supra.

[38] Gov. Wolf Signs Yaw Legislation Modernizing the Office of District Attorney, Senator Gene Yaw, (Nov. 17, 2021), https://www.senatorgeneyaw.com/2021/11/17/gov-wolf-signs-yaw-legislation-modernizing-the-office-of-district-attorney/.  

[39] S. Res. 420, 2021-2022 Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (Pa. 2021).

[40] Ellich, supra.

[41] Id.

[42] Id.

[43] Id.

[44] Salsman, M. Chad, The Disciplinary Bd. of the Sup. Ct. of Pa., https://www.padisciplinaryboard.org/for-the-public/find-attorney/attorney-detail/87547.

[45] David Hurst, Somerset County Salary Board to Consider Suspending DA’s Pay, The Tribune Democrat, (Nov. 18, 2021), https://www.tribdem.com/news/somerset-county-salary-board-to-consider-suspending-das-pay/article_65e6954e-47e0-11ec-9a8f-bf16058b2689.html.

[46] Rian Bossler, Alleged Victim of Somerset County DA Withdraws PFA Order, WTAJ (Oct. 29, 2021, 11:46 A.M.) https://www.wearecentralpa.com/news/local-news/alleged-victim-of-somerset-co-da-withdraws-petition-for-protection/?ipid=promo-link-block2 (Oct. 29, 2021, 12:18 PM). 

[47] National Sexual Assault Hotline: Confidential 24/7 Support, RAINN, https://www.rainn.org/resources.

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