DA drama continues: Urbanski files suit

Former deputy county prosecutor William C. Urbanski has sued the county’s new district attorney saying that she was unlawfully appointed and that he should be declared district attorney.
In his lawsuit filed Wednesday, Urbanski asks that the county court overrule Judge Jason J. Legg’s appointment of Marion O’Malley as district attorney and the judge’s determination that Urbanski’s lack of residency in Susquehanna County bars him from holding the position.
Urbanski, the former head of the Luzerne County Republican Party, argues that state law directs that he automatically assumes the position as he was first assistant to former district attorney Robert Klein when he died in December.
O’Malley fired Urbanski hours after Legg swore her in and less than a week after the state Supreme Court turned down an emergency petition Urbanski filed in January asking them to block her appointment.
O’Malley, whose appointment expires in 2020, was Legg’s first assistant before he was elected judge in 2015.
In its one-page decision, the state Supreme Court said it would not stop Urbanski from filing suit in county court and, if he did, directed the county court to resolve the issue “on an expedited basis.”
Any decision will likely be appealed.
As Legg’s decision forms the basis of Urbanski’s lawsuit, a different judge will hear the case.
In his lawsuit Urbanski argues that by using his lack of established residency in the county as the reason not to recognize him as district attorney, Legg used the wrong part of law governing the succession of district attorneys.
Urbanski, who began living in the county in December, says that because he was neither elected nor appointed, a different portion of the law applies.
Both the state Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts and the Susquehanna County Bar Association have stated they agree with Legg’s interpretation of the law.
“Petitioner became District Attorney by operation of law until the
next municipal election, a non-volitional act requiring assent by no one,” Urbanski’s attorney, Bruce L. Castor Jr. wrote. “He did not become District Attorney by ‘appointment’ nor by ‘election,’ so the residency requirement cannot apply to him or any person succeeding to the office by operation of law,” wrote Castor, who in his former position as president of the state’s District Attorney’s Association was involved in drafting the legislation.
The correct portion of the law, Castor says, is designed “precisely to avoid the present scenario where in small counties the Judicial Branch would otherwise appoint a key Executive Branch official creating the appearance that the county prosecutor holds his/her post upon the discretion of, often, a single judge—as is the case here.”
“Petitioner’s requested relief serves the public interest because any
actions taken by (O’Malley) in her official capacity as District Attorney are
subject to legal challenge if Judge Legg has improperly applied Pennsylvania
statutory law with regard to the succession,” Castor wrote in his 15-page lawsuit.
Friction between Urbanski and Legg reached a head in early January after Legg had repeatedly advised Urbanski that although he had recently established county residency in anticipation of Klein’s death, that still did not satisfy the law’s requirement that he live in the county for at least a year.
The issue of Urbanski’s residency surfaced at a county commissioner’s meeting as early as March 2016 after he was hired Feb. 29.
As Legg had refused to swear Urbanski in, Urbanski then turned to his lifelong friend, Luzerne County Magisterial District Judge James J. Haggerty, who swore him in at the Urbanski family home in Mountain Top, Luzerne County.
After his swearing in, Urbanski attempted to identify himself as the county’s district attorney in subsequent courtroom appearances and had the county’s website changed to identify him as such, complete with his photograph.
However, Legg and Magisterial District Judge Suzanne Brainard told him directly during subsequent courtroom appearances they would neither recognize nor address him as such.
O’Malley is expected to file a formal answer to Urbanski’s lawsuit within a month.

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