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Bill addresses district attorney qualifications

A bill sponsored by state Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, would clarify the statutory requirements for anyone holding the office of district attorney.

The focus of Senate Bill 420 would require a district attorney of a county to hold a valid license for practicing law in the state.

“Currently, there is no requirement that a person elected to the office of district attorney possess an active license to practice law at the time of entering office, which SB 420 will require,” he said. “My bill would also establish safeguards so that the office of district attorney would continue to operate uninterrupted in the event of a suspension of the law license or disbarment from the practice of law of a sitting district attorney. It would provide needed uniformity and efficiency to current law and for those who discharge the duties of the office. It will assure the citizens that the integrity expected in the office of district attorney is maintained.”

Yaw said he could think of no county in the state where someone without a law license holds the job of district attorney.

He noted, however, that there are good reasons for his bill, including preventing someone from holding the office if they have been suspended or disbarred from practicing law.

“I don’t think someone who is prosecuting somebody should do so if they have been charged for something themselves,” he said.

Under provisions of the bill, in a case of suspension, the first assistant district attorney would become the acting district attorney pending reinstatement of the elected district attorney, or until the end of the elected district attorney’s current term.

Disbarment would create a vacancy, which would be filled under current law or prospectively by pending Senate legislation currently under consideration in the House.

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously advanced the bill to the full Senate for consideration.

Yaw said he feels the bill has a good chance of being passed.

“I honestly do,” he said. “It’s not controversial. The District Attorneys Association supports it.”

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