What did the judge decide in the motions for the DA Jeffrey Thomas case?
Suspended District Attorney Jeffrey Thomas will be able to finish preparing for his defense in a case where he is accused of sexual abuse from his own home with his wife and children.
Thomas, 36, of Windber, is accused of entering an adult acquaintance's home on the evening of Sept. 18, 2021, without permission and remaining in the residence even after being told to leave. Police said he sexually and physically assaulted a woman. A jury trial is scheduled for September.
The judge granted the defense team's request to change the bond condition that required Thomas and his wife, Amy Thomas, to live separate from each other with the no contact order in place. He will still have to wear his ankle monitor device and be under the same conditions for house arrest and work release, the judge said.
Amy Thomas testified Thursday during a hearing before Cambria County Senior Judge Timothy Creany Jr. on pretrial motions in his case that publicity about her husband's arrest and upcoming trial caused her to lose her job at a law firm. Now she is opening her own practice, which is time consuming.
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In the meantime, she is making "no money" and Jeffrey Thomas, whose law license is suspended and his income stopped, also is making "no money," according to his defense team.
By being able to once again live together as a family the Thomas' can help each other survive financially, she testified.
Creany ruled Thursday that Thomas was not in contempt of his court order which if found in violation could have led to a fine or jail.
The Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General based their request to hold Thomas in contempt of court on reported comments by Thomas in an article in the Daily American dealing with civil asset forfeitures that dealt with "selective prosecution." On April 1, Creany ordered that "all persons assisting or associated with Counsel for the defendant, including the defendant himself, are precluded from making extrajudicial statements (involving the sexual assault case)."
Technically, the judge said he found Thomas' words in violation of his order since he had not issued a gag order, per se, about not allowing out-of-court statements depicting on or the defense's theory, "selective prosecution." Creany did not rule on that matter until the hearing Thursday. Thus, he said from the bench in courtroom No. 3 in the Somerset County Court of Common pleas that he could not find that Thomas violated a court order.
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Creany held that "going forward" that "conspiracy theory" responding to Senior Deputy Attorney General Patrick Schulte's reasons why it was not appropriate is not to be raised again in an out-of-court statement or at trial.
"We're not going to try something that some ill\ will is afoot. It is not going to happen," Creany said. "We're not going to permit widespread allegations."
Thomas' defense team, Ryan Tutera and Eric Lurie, both of Pittsburgh, responded in a motion stating that the government's contention that the defendant be held in criminal contempt is "not only outrageous, but it serves no other purpose but to further place the defendant in a bad light ..."
Senior Deputy Attorney General Tomm Mutschler read an affidavit by then-Daily American managing editor Bruce Siwy that stated the quotes by Thomas in his article were answers to specific questions about how the asset forfeitures were conducted under Thomas as opposed to the former District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser. And that the information was given through an email he sent to Siwy through the Daily American. Siwy is now an investigative journalist for Gannett's Pennsylvania capital bureau.
What has gone before
At an April 29 hearing, Thomas' bond in the sexual assault case was revoked by Creany based on a motion from the attorney general's office that called Thomas a danger to the community after he was charged with harassment and two traffic summaries for allegedly ramming his truck into a vehicle driven by a witness in the sex assault case against Thomas. The incident occurred in the early morning hours of March 31.
Then on May 20, charges were sent to Cambria County trial court that involved a domestic dispute in which Thomas is accused of punching his wife in the head numerous times while she was on FaceTime with her half-sister. The woman went to the state police and reported the alleged incident April 9, according to court documents. The incident occurred in May 2021 while the pair was traveling from Johnstown to Windber, according to police. A woman listed by state police as a witness to the video came forward to report it April 9, saying she took photographs of physical injuries.
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Both Jeffrey Thomas and Amy Thomas deny the charges.
Thomas' license to practice law was suspended by the state Supreme Court for reasons that have not been disclosed by the disciplinary arm of the high court. Because of the suspension, Thomas can no longer have access to anything to do with the Somerset County District Attorney's Office or in the courthouse itself, unless for his own case.
Several discovery motions
A motion to compel discovery (evidence) that included employment records of one of the prosecution's potential witnesses, who is employed by Windber Police Department, was denied for irrelevance by Creany.
In the motion, Thomas' attorneys question the witness' credibility and called him "an indispensable witness in this case, because he was the conduit between (the alleged victim) and the state police." The defense added "... and, frankly, caused the initiation of the charges against the defendant."
In another motion to compel discovery, Creany disallowed the defense to produce evidence of protection from abuse orders made by the alleged victim. The request was withdrawn.
Motion to remove
The judge essentially denied the defense request that the judge remove Somerset County Court Administrator Tammy Escalera from dealing with the case. They claim that discovery evidence revealed that Escalera engaged in ex-parte conversation with a Somerset County judge and a prosecution witness regarding the defendant and the witness obtaining a protection from abuse petition. The witness worked in the court administration office at the time and later did file a PFA. She withdrew her PFA before a hearing was scheduled.
The defense called Escalera's actions "improper."
However, Creany said that Esclaera and her office can continue with their role in the criminal justice system in the case, with Escalera's role that deals with jurors, such as assembly of jurors (selected by computer) and issuing voir dire questionnaires (compiled by prosecution, defense and judge) will be provided by court staff.
Follow Judy D.J. Ellich on Twitter @dajudye.
This article originally appeared on The Daily American: Somerset DA can finish preparing defense from home