SOMERSET, Pa .– Somerset County District Attorney Jeffrey Thomas has been suspended by the state Supreme Court.
The order temporarily suspends Thomas’ law license from the Pennsylvania Bar – and comes a month after Thomas was charged with sexually assaulting a woman in Windber.
This decision does not remove Thomas from his elected post, but prevents him from practicing law as a prosecutor or private lawyer while his license is suspended.
The court did not give an end date for the suspension, noting that it will remain in effect until the board takes further action, the court wrote in a one-page order.
The court ruled on the case on Tuesday, after the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Council’s Disciplinary Board office asked the court to bring an action.
The Disciplinary Board is an independent body of 13 members – including 11 lawyers and two non-lawyers from across the state – who are responsible for reviewing allegations of misconduct to ensure Pennsylvania lawyers are following the rules. state in matters of professional conduct.
Thomas is represented by Pittsburgh attorney Holly M. Whalen, who is with a Pittsburgh firm, DiBella, Weinheimer Haber & Coco PC, specializing in matters of ethics, licensing and professional conduct.
Whalen did not respond to a call for comment Wednesday.
Thomas’ criminal defense attorney Ryan Tutera declined to comment, saying he was not representing Thomas in the disciplinary case.
Thomas is awaiting trial in Somerset County Court on charges of sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, strangulation, common assault and criminal trespass, as well as other charges.
Police allege Thomas assaulted the woman on September 18 inside her home in Windber after she messaged her Snapchat and entered the residence when told to stay away.
In a criminal complaint, police said the woman knew Thomas professionally, but had refused his advances for several years.
Thomas walked into the house with beer, and after she slapped him and told him to leave, he pushed her onto the sofa, pulled down her top and sexually assaulted her, the woman said. state police.
The woman was able to flee Thomas after he allegedly penetrated her several times with his penis, police wrote.
Thomas is fighting the charges in court but has taken time off from his post while he focuses on the criminal case against him.
A Senate bill that cleared the State House this week could potentially prevent Thomas from returning to office unless the suspension is lifted.
Shoelace Bill Pass House
A bill from a Lycoming County senator that requires an active law license to oversee the district attorney’s office comes back to the Senate for another vote.
The Pennsylvania Senate has already passed the bill unanimously in the spring, but State House took over the bill late last month after a second district attorney in two years – the other a former Bradford County District Attorney – has been charged with sex crimes.
As drafted, the district attorney’s office would be deemed vacant if a sitting attorney was removed from the bar. If the license is suspended by the Supreme Court, that prosecutor would be suspended from oversight of the office until that license is reinstated or the sentence he is serving has not expired.
By law in Pennsylvania, an attorney must have a license to practice law – regardless of whether someone is trying to continue performing other duties as a district attorney.
The bill was first drafted after former Bradford County District Attorney Chad Salsman vowed to remain in office while his own case was pending, alleging he had coerced clients into having sexual relations with him while he was then a private lawyer.
Salsman ended up pleading guilty to his charges, including intimidation of witnesses, and serving a sentence of 18 months to five years in prison for these crimes.
The bill under consideration also clarifies how the prosecutor’s office can continue to operate during a vacancy, such as a suspension, with the first assistant able to serve as the interim district attorney during the period.
Thomas has already handed oversight of the office to his first assistant, Molly Metzgar, while he focuses on the charges against him in court.
The expected Senate passage would send the bill to Governor Tom Wolf’s office for signature.
Local lawmakers – including State Senators Wayne Langerholc Jr. and Patrick Stefano, and State Representatives Frank Burns, Jim Rigby and Thomas Sankey – have backed the bill.
State Representative Carl Walker Metzgar did not vote on the bill.
Walker said he supports the bill, but since his wife is now an interim prosecutor, state House rules prohibit him from voting, as the legislation could affect his office .