Pa. bill outlines rules when district attorneys lose law license

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The Pennsylvania Capitol is shown in Harrisburg, Pa., Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. Republicans in Pennsylvania’s state Senate are preparing to test how far they can go in pursuing what the GOP calls a “forensic investigation” of last year’s presidential election, as they help perpetuate baseless claims that Democrats cheated former President Donald Trump out of victory. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Procedures for a district attorney’s office to operate when the district attorney’s law license has been suspended or revoked passed the Pennsylvania House unanimously on Tuesday.

The bill was amended since its unanimous Senate passage in April, so it must be approved again by that chamber to go to the governor’s desk.

It would deem the office of the district attorney vacant if the incumbent district attorney is disbarred. If his or her law license is only suspended, they would also be suspended from office until the license is restored or their term expires.

If a district attorney is suspended, their first assistant will take over if they are qualified, willing and able. If not, a county judge will appoint an interim district attorney.

District attorneys would need to maintain an active law license during their term in office. Pennsylvania elects county district attorneys.

Earlier this year, the district attorney in Bradford County, Chad Salsman, had vowed to continue serving as the county’s top prosecutor while his own case was pending for pressuring clients for sex when he was a defense attorney and then coercing them to keep quiet about it.

Salsman turned over trial and courtroom duties to subordinates. But he subsequently pleaded guilty to charges of witness intimidation, promoting prostitution and obstruction of justice and resigned. He was sentenced to 18 months to five years in jail.

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More recently, Somerset County District Attorney Jeffrey Thomas was charged with sexual assault. County officials have said his access to the office and the courthouse are restricted, and Thomas has said he is taking a leave of absence.

The process by which the Disciplinary Board and Supreme Court suspend a law license can take some time, so it’s unclear how the bill under consideration might affect Thomas’ status if enacted.

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