Marion O’Malley ran for District Attorney in Susquehanna County during the last election cycle. She lost to Rob Klein. Earlier this year Rob Klein passed, so of course she was the President’s top choice for the job, as well as the People’s. The President Judge appointed her shortly after Klein’s death, but before he could even make the appointment, the First Assistant District Attorney slipped in – arranging to take the oath of office from his long time high school buddy, and MDJ, because all the Commonwealth Judges had refused.
But there was another problem on top of the clandestine oath of office taken by the former First Assistant District Attorney William Urbanksi. Urbanski also was not a resident of Susquehanna County, as all public officials holding office are required to do so. But Urbanski by this time was used to overcoming obstacles. If all the Judges refused to swear him in, he had found a Magisterial District Judge. Therefore if County Code said he must reside in the County, he would immediately pick up and move within County lines. So he did, renting a house shortly before he took oath. Seemingly in disregard to the clause within the law that states all county official actors must have resided in the county for at least a year, prior to election/appointment. A bothersome technicality.
A malicious struggle for control of the Susquehanna District Attorney’s office ensued. The president Judge ignored the subterfuge swearing in of Urbanski, and held an official swearing in of O’Malley. Urbanski had been at a bail hearing at the time, and was met outside by local television reporters, where he stuttered angrily, that he was the proper district attorney, and that he had a “full docket” and that he would “continue to serve the county.” He sounded more like a jaded stalker rather than a dignified prosecutor. He was ill shaven, and looked and sounded mad.
When he returned to the Courthouse, O’Malley was upstairs meeting with the Staff of the District Attorney’s office after having being sworn in. No doubt she had viewed Urbanski’s performance on the local news, or at least heard of it. She quickly fired him, and he left with little fanfare, refusing to comment to the press on his way to his car.
Urbanksi hired Bruce Castor, and Castor – starving for business – of course took his money and they filed suit to get the job back, asserting the judge misinterpreted the state’s residency requirement for district attorneys.
The state Supreme Court could ultimately decide the case. Defense lawyers are watching.
“I would imagine if Marion O’Malley is considered unable to hold the position by some higher court, there will be defense lawyers saying the prosecutions are invalid,” said criminal defense attorney Joe D’Andrea. “If it happens one time, it’ll spread like wildfire and every criminal defendant will want that.” –Missouri Lawyers: CITATION
Urbanski cannot argue a lack of experience of O’Malley, who once served as First Assistant District Attorney under Klein before running for election in 2015. Urbanski took her position as First ADA. It had been a heated election, where Klein – as I mentioned – had only won the seat by 36 votes.
Klein died after a fight with cancer on January 1, 2018.
It took almost no time for Klein to petition the Susquehanna Court of Common Pleas Judges to swear him in. They all refused. Within 24 hours of the refusals, Klein had his best friend from High School, a MDJ, out on his personal property – a farm outside the county – and got himself sworn is as the new DA. He wasn’t taking no for an answer. Of course this was met with some public outcry, and the local defense bar’s public objections. Thus, the President Judge was compelled to act rather quickly and decisively.
A second swearing in was performed. This time it was on county property and commenced by a Court of Common Pleas Judge, the president Judge. This swearing in was also public. The Defense Bar breathed a sigh of relief, they were hoping O’Malley would turn out to be the replacement.
President Judge Jason Legg is no stranger to the District Attorney’s office, having served as a former District Attorney. He cited state law and pointed out Urbanski’s residency issues. Legg was also familiar with O’Malley’s work as a prosecutor, as she had served under Legg while Legg was a prosecutor, and he had seen her impressive court performances during his tenure as president Judge.
Urbanski sought the counsel of Castor, stinging from losing his position as District Attorney, and then losing his job. Castor pulled up a law from the 2001 stating that the First Assistant District Attorney automatically becomes DA in the event of a vacancy. It was an aged law, which was written to apply to Pennsylvania’s smaller counties. It still does not address the issue of the residency requirement, but Castor argues that the residency requirement doesn’t apply to Urbanski.
His lawyer, Bruce Castor, said he had a hand in crafting the 2001 law. “When we drafted the law, we intended that the first assistant automatically become DA in the smaller counties to avoid this kind of local politics,” said Castor, a former district attorney in suburban Philadelphia.
In court documents, Castor argues it would be an “absurd interpretation” of the residency rule to conclude that elected DAs in smaller counties must live in the county, but replacement DAs, “who have all the same powers and responsibilities, somehow are ‘able’ to serve without meeting those same requirements.”
Castor took it a step further, as he always does:
“If Judge Legg is mistaken, and he did not have the power to appoint Mrs. O’Malley, then no one currently has prosecutorial powers in Susquehanna County, and every person Mrs. O’Malley purports to prosecute could claim she lacks proper authority,” Castor said via email.
O’Malley said the same holds true of Urbanski’s tenure.
“When the dust settles on this, and I believe it’s going to settle in my favor, will I have a situation created as a result of Mr. Urbanski sitting in this office, having made plea deals?” she said. “It’s potentially an issue either way.”
A Judge heard arguments on March 5, and we await an opinion.
It should be noted that neither the local defense bar or the Court of Common Pleas Judges feel comfortable in Urbanski’s fitness for office. But all that aside, Urbanski was not a legal resident of the County, and it O’Malley also seems to be the popular choice of the people.
And there is a level of tastelessness and tackiness to the actions of Urbanski, renting a house within county lines, and going behind the back of the Court of Common Pleas Judges to have himself sworn in before Klein’s body was in the grave or even cold:
Bill Urbanski shared a photo on New Year’s Day of a district judge in Luzerne County swearing him into office because the judge in Susquehanna County would not.
Urbanski currently does not live in the county.
“We’ll continue to do the work for the commonwealth unless I’m told otherwise, so I had a full docket this morning, have a full docket this afternoon,” Urbanski said.
Urbanski asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to stop the judge’s appointment of O’Malley and just last week, the court refused to step in, but left open the option for Urbanski to take the issue to court.
Bruce “the ass” Castor resolves not to give up the fight. Meanwhile O’Malley fights the good fight, and the local defense bar and judges seem happy. What is Urbanski’s ultimate motivation? Why of course! The $180k salary, nevermind those pesky laws, or the wants, the needs and best interests of the County Judges, citizens and local bar.
What is Castor’s motivation? Well, with the embarrassment of the second Cosby trial looming, and his reputation in tatters on a national forefront, and a severe shortage of business in private practice: Now he gets to go be an annoyance to another county (other than Centre County), generate some cheap press, and act like a big shot before someone in that county ultimately makes a fool out of him, and he is again run out of town.