Two local attorneys with experience in the Cambria County District Attorney’s Office will face off in the primary election for the Republican nomination for the top prosecutor position.
Tom Leiden, an Ebensburg attorney, previously worked as the county’s solicitor for four years and an assistant district attorney for five years.
According to Leiden, who has sought the office before, voters are primarily concerned about the safety of their families.
“They are keenly aware of violent crime and drug crime, continually reading or hearing about murders, overdose deaths, shots fired and drug-related crimes,” Leiden said. “Voters want a DA that will deliver on the promise to make the county safer for their family. They just want it fixed.”
Many voters point to “soft pleas” as the problem, Leiden said, with law enforcement, victims and their families especially critical of plea bargains in certain cases.
Leiden also said voters have become much more aware of how the drug epidemic and associated crime is negatively affecting the county, driving younger generations away and dissuading employers from establishing businesses.
“They have come to understand that the crime problem needs to be addressed as a prerequisite to economic development,” Leiden said. “They are weary of Cambria County always being listed among the worst in drugs and crime.”
In addition, Leiden said voters are not satisfied with the current management of the district attorney’s office.
“Police and victims feel lost and disrespected by the DA’s office,” he said. “They want the DA to genuinely honor their rights to participate in the criminal prosecution process.”
Leiden said he’s been actively advocating for change in the district attorney’s office and refining a plan for change for more than nine years.
“My detailed plan has been fully thought out incorporating the input of all the stakeholders,” he said.
Leiden’s plan proposes plea bargain guidelines to ensure equal and firm justice, new office technologies to improve efficiency and accuracy, procedures to allow all victims and police to be heard and informed about their cases, more jury trials, and work to provide more punishment and rehabilitation options, including a drug court.
Ultimately, Leiden said, his experience makes him the best candidate.
“Whether measured in years, hours, investigations, search warrants, pleas, jury trials, sentencings, or appeals; my experience measures in multiples of my challenger’s experience,” Leiden said.
In addition, Leiden mentioned his unique experiences as a previous county drug prosecutor, Top Gun drug prosecution training, wiretapping experience, investigations assisting the Assistant United States Attorney’s prosecutions, research work in the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office and clerking for the Pennsylvania Superior Court.
“Hopefully, my track record will give me credibility in warning that the narcotic problem is not over, our crime rate is still unacceptable, new drug threats are rising, and we still need change in the DA’s office,” Leiden said.
“Signs are already apparent that the next drug abuse wave of methamphetamine, cocaine, and drug mixtures is rising and originating from Cambria County. This time, we need a DA to lead the change to prevent it.”
Greg Neugebauer, of Ebensburg, who also spent time as an assistant district attorney in Cambria County, said voters he’s spoken with have expressed concerns about the drug epidemic and believe prosecutors must be more aggressive with drug dealers fueling the problem.
Local families are also concerned with the lack of arrests in homicide cases, Neugebauer said.
“People don’t feel safe and it will take new leadership to implement a plan that focuses our resources on making our county safer for all residents,” he said.
“This will also enable us to attract new families and businesses to our wonderful county. As district attorney, I will work full-time to accomplish these goals.”
As a previous assistant district attorney, Neugebauer said he understands firsthand that “law enforcement and victims want and need attention from the district attorney.”
“I am honored to be the only candidate endorsed by the Flood City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 86 in this race,” Neugebauer said. “These officers are on the front line in the battle to take back our streets, and their endorsement acknowledges the need for change and highlights their confidence in me to serve as our next Cambria County district attorney.”
Neugebauer said his experience in the courtroom, both as an assistant district attorney and in private practice, has prepared him to face tough challenge and deliver full-time leadership in the office.
“We need a district attorney who will work one-on-one with law enforcement to put violent criminals and the drug dealers ruining our neighborhoods behind bars,” he said. “Our district attorney needs to work in partnership with the assistant district attorneys and be in the courtroom and at magistrates offices, working full-time where the actual work gets done.”
The district attorney should run an effective and efficient office that ensures all funds, regardless of source, are spent prudently and properly, Neugebauer said, and be proactive in the community to educate residents on the dangers of drugs, senior scams and topics related to the ongoing opioid crisis.
Tough decisions need to be made in a more timely manner, Neugebauer added.
“For instance, police officers should not have to wait a year to find out if they acted properly in the line of duty, especially when the incident is on video,” Neugebauer said. “Law enforcement and victims should not have to wait in agony for months. I pledge to provide a much higher level of dedication to the office and to provide the strong leadership necessary to make our communities safer and ensure that precious resources are efficiently and properly utilized.”
Either Leiden or Neugebauer will be up against incumbent Democrat Kelly Callihan in the fall election. Callihan has held the office since 2010.