Luzerne County District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce will run unopposed if the DA seat is on the ballot Nov. 2.
No Democrats will be nominated because a pending court case over the timing of the race created a “cloud” of uncertainty that discouraged several qualified potential contenders, county Democratic Party Chairwoman Kathy Bozinski said Friday.
County Republican Chairman Justin Behrens said Friday his party is “more than excited” to nominate Sanguedolce due to his “proven record” as appointed DA and previously first assistant DA, although he also reiterated that the party still holds a position that race should not be held until 2023.
The court case will determine when the race must be held under new state legislation governing DA vacancies that kicked in when Sanguedolce filled the unexpired seat left by Stefanie Salavantis’ March 25 departure to run for county judge.
Even though that court case is still unresolved, the county must proceed under the county Election Board’s decision that the race will be in November. That means both parties have a Monday deadline to nominate a candidate.
The new state statute says the first assistant DA serves “until the first Monday in January following the next municipal election occurring not less than 90 days after the occurrence of the vacancy.”
County Assistant Solicitor Michael Butera had argued the race cannot be on the ballot until the 2023 primary because nominees must be selected through a primary in a municipal election year, and the vacancy came too late for candidates to run in the upcoming May 18 primary.
However, Attorney Joseph M. Cosgrove, who was retained by the county Office of Law to provide an outside opinion, took a position the new statute requires the DA race to be on the ballot this November because it is the next municipal election.
A majority of the five-citizen county Election Board voted in April to hold the race in November and later decided it must be for a two-year term instead of four.
In May, a county council majority voted to file legal action contesting the board’s decision. Sanguedolce also joined the DA’s Office as a plaintiff in the resulting action filed in August.
It’s unclear when this court case will be adjudicated.
The council/DA litigation asserts the board’s decision is “based upon an improper interpretation of applicable law.” The board responded last week with a filing arguing the case should be dismissed and not proceed because council and the DA’s Office lack authority and standing to pursue it.
County Councilwoman Kendra Radle, who is serving as a liaison with council’s outside legal counsel, said Friday that attorneys for council and the DA’s Office are preparing a response to the election board’s preliminary objections that will be filed in county court.
Adjudication has been assigned to Robert J. Shenkin, a senior judge from Chester County.
Bozinski said she and other county Democratic leaders actively reached out to prospective attorney candidates, with several indicating they were interested but not now under the current conditions. She said there were at least three “solid candidates” and that they also expressed concerns about fundraising for a campaign that may not occur.
“We gave it an incredible effort to find the right candidate. If it is on the ballot, I’m hoping it will be a two-year term. I think by then the optics and narrative will change for a strong candidate to step in,” she said.
Behrens said he is still frustrated Butera’s recommendation to wait until 2023 was not followed and said he has unanswered questions about how the process unfolded.
County Acting Chief Solicitor Vito DeLuca has said Cosgrove’s opinion was sought because the “consensus opinion” among attorneys in the county law division differed from Butera’s.
If the race proceeds Nov. 2 with a two-year term, it could drastically reduce the time Sanguedolce can serve. The county’s home rule charter imposes a three-term limit for DA, which would typically equate to a maximum 12 years. However, his appointment this year could also count as a term under the charter, which means winning a two-year term this year and a four-year re-election in 2023 would limit him to less than seven years.