Somerset County's Thomas latest Pennsylvania DA to face legal issues

Sep. 23—WINDBER, Pa. — The case of former Bradford County District Attorney Chad Salsman might provide a template for at least part of what happens concerning Somerset County District Attorney Jeffrey Lynn Thomas, who has been arrested and arraigned on a rape charge.

In early February, Salsman was charged with sexually assaulting women who were his clients when he worked in private practice. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania temporarily suspended his law license a few weeks later, on March 25. Salsman pleaded guilty to intimidation, promoting prostitution and obstruction of justice and resigned as district attorney on May 7.

Along with a rape allegation, Thomas also faces counts of indecent assault, strangulation, simple assault and criminal trespass that were filed on Wednesday, following an investigation by the Pennsylvania State Police and partner law-enforcement agencies.

An investigation could be conducted by the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which did not respond Thursday to a request for an interview.

"Maybe (Salsman's suspension) is a precedent for this because that sounds kind of familiar," Duquesne University School of Law professor Bruce Ledewitz said. "It's not so different, is it?"

Ledewitz added: "Now that they've acted already in Salsman's case, maybe they'll say, 'You know, that's what we do.' In a way, it would be fairer if they said that's what we automatically do. Because it certainly is not fair to have them look at the charges and say if we think he's guilty or not."

Ryan Tutera, Thomas' defense attorney, said his client is innocent and looks forward to his day in court.

Other individuals and organizations have expressed concern about the allegations made against Thomas.

"No one is above the law," said Greg Rowe, executive director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. "The allegations outlined today in Somerset County deeply disturb us. Everyone involved in the criminal justice system has a legal and ethical obligation to follow the law and to conduct themselves with the utmost integrity — no one more so than the district attorney. Any individual's failure to either act lawfully or in accordance with their ethical obligations is wholly unacceptable."

Thomas and Salsman are among a handful of the commonwealth's DAs to face legal accusations in recent years.

—Bedford County District Attorney Bill Higgins was sentenced in 2018 to 120 days of house arrest, 1,125 hours of community service, eight years of county probation supervision and more than $9,700 in fines, while also being required to complete alcohol or sex addiction counseling. Higgins entered a plea agreement after being accused of giving lighter sentences to women he was having sexual relationships with and providing names of confidential informants to drug dealers. Higgins resigned as district attorney.

—In February 2019, Stacy Parks Miller, former Centre County district attorney, had her law license suspended by the state disciplinary board. She was accused of engaging in ex parte communications with county judges without informing defense lawyers and of improperly using a fake Facebook page to snoop on people. She was reinstated this year. Parks Miller lost the 2019 Democratic Party primary in her bid for a third term.