County, Salavantis reach agreement over her resignation to end legal battle

Bob Kalinowski, The Citizens' Voice, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
·3 min read

Mar. 19—Luzerne County and District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis have come to an agreement over her planned departure that will avoid — at least for now — a legal battle.

Hours after Salavantis filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction, her attorney and a lawyer for Luzerne County filed a joint memorandum of understanding about how the vacancy in the district attorney's office will be addressed in the short term.

Salavantis agreed to submit a resignation letter Friday that takes effect 5 p.m. March 25, the date she has always eyed to leave the office since announcing her run for judge, according to the memo by Salavantis attorney Lawrence Moran Sr. and the county's outside counsel, attorney Joseph Cosgrove.

First Assistant District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce will become acting district attorney.

It's then expected Luzerne County Council will accept Salavantis' resignation at its next meeting and "rescind as moot" a controversial vote at its March 9 meeting that declared the district attorney's office was vacant because of Salavantis' run for judge.

Council members said they voted to remove Salavantis because the county's home rule charter mandates a district attorney must resign once they become a candidate for another office.

Salavantis has said she did not have to resign by state law and council did not have the power to remove her. Her attorneys argue state law supersedes the charter.

The memo the parties agreed to on Friday says Salavantis will step down on March 25 and Sanguedolce "will continue to serve as Acting District Attorney from that point until the vacancy in the Office of District Attorney is permanently filled in due course."

The memo does not address how the vacancy will be filled.

The county charter says the county council would choose a new district attorney who must be of the same political party as Salavantis, a Republican.

Luzerne County President Judge Michael Vough has said state law mandates county judges pick the replacement and the person could be of any political party, the same position argued in Salavantis' filing.

Salavantis submitted her resignation letter on Friday to county Manager David Pedri.

"It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve the people of Luzerne County as District Attorney," Salavantis wrote.

If county council fails to accept Salavantis' resignation and fails to rescind its previous vacancy declaration, Salavantis' resignation letter is nullified and she will move forward with the injunction she sought Friday morning, according to the memo.

In the injunction request filing, Moran sought to overturn council's vacancy declaration, asking a judge to declare provisions in the county's home rule charter "void and unconstitutional" as they pertain to the council's power to declare the office vacant and appoint a replacement.

Should a vacancy occur in the office, state law that supersedes home rule charters says county judges appoint the new district attorney, Moran said.

The vote by council to declare a vacancy in the district attorney's office has created a "legal quandary which raises serious doubt as to the legitimacy of any official actions taken in the name of the District Attorney of Luzerne County," Moran wrote.

"Stefanie J. Salavantis is the duly-elected District Attorney of Luzerne County and she has not been lawfully removed from her elected office," Moran wrote.

When she announced she was running for Luzerne County judge, Salavantis said she would resign after she was officially a candidate — or around March 25 after the deadline to challenge candidates' petitions or withdraw as a candidate.

Council recently voted 6-3 to declare the post of district attorney vacant because Salavantis filed petitions to run for judge.

Salavantis and Sanguedolce have both signed many legal documents since the vacancy declaration in light of the uncertainty over Salavantis' legal standing as district attorney.

The date of vacancy in the district attorney office was important because of a bill in the state legislature that would mandate the first assistant district automatically become district attorney in the event of a vacancy. However, that law would only apply to vacancies that occur after the law is passed.

Contact the writer:

bkalinowski@citizensvoice.com

570-821-2055; @cvbobkal