Thomas 5

Attorney Ryan Tutera of Pittsburgh (left) leads his client Somerset County D.A. Jeffrey Thomas into the Somerset County Courthouse for his preliminary hearing on Tuesday, October 19, 2021.

SOMERSET, Pa. – With a law now in place in Pennsylvania barring prosecutors from overseeing their offices without active law licenses, Somerset County’s paychecks to District Attorney Jeffrey Thomas could cease later this month.

Somerset County’s salary board is expected to have the item on their agenda Nov. 30, Somerset County Solicitor Michael Barbera said.

“When the board meets Nov. 30, all options will be on the table, including suspension of the district attorney’s pay,” Barbera said.

Thomas, who is awaiting trial on sexual assault charges, had his law license suspended by order of the state Supreme Court last month, based on a petition by the Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Board’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel. Court filings show that order goes into effect Nov. 26.

Nov. 30 marks the first salary board meeting after that date.

Barbera said the board does not set salaries in cases such as this, but a “formal acknowledgement” by majority vote is required to enable pay to start or cease.

“Basically, it’ll be up to the board to acknowledge what Act 88 has set forth,” Barbera said of the bill signed by Gov. Tom Wolf this week.

As an elected official, a district attorney is not an employee of a county or its elected commissioners. But by law, counties in Pennsylvania pay their salaries and are then reimbursed by the state of Pennsylvania.

Somerset County’s salary board is a five-member board that includes the county’s three commissioners, Treasurer Donna Matsko Schmitt and, depending on which office a salary pertains to, the head of that office. But because of Thomas’ suspension from office, he would not have a seat on the board Nov. 30, Barbera acknowledged.

Yaw ‘DA bill’ approved

A bill signed into law by Wolf this week – backed by unanimous support from the state House and Senate – now requires district attorneys to have active law licenses while they are in office.

In cases where licenses are suspended, that order prohibits prosecutors from resuming their roles unless their licenses are reinstated. If not, a first assistant oversees the office until the position is up for reelection.

In cases where a court order disbars a district attorney from practicing, the position is declared vacant.

The law signed this week was first introduced by state Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Williamsport, in response to charges filed against a then-Bradford County district attorney who maintained he would stay in office while fighting criminal charges against him earlier this year.

That prosecutor, Chad Salsman, pleaded guilty in the spring to promoting prostitution and obstructing justice, and is now serving a minimum of a year and a half behind bars.

Thomas fighting charges

Thomas has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, which allege he unlawfully entered a Windber woman’s home and sexually assaulted her.

Thomas took a leave of absence from his job after charges were filed against him and assigned his first assistant, Molly Metzgar, to oversee the office while he fights his criminal case in court.

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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