Senate Approves Blake’s Bill for County Option to Allow DA’s to Avoid Conflicts of Interest

HARRISBURG, May 6, 2014 – The Pennsylvania Senate today approved Sen. John Blake’s legislation giving certain classifications of counties the option to not include their district attorneys on their prison boards.

Counties of the 6th (45,000 to 89,999 residents), 7th (20,000 to 49,999) and 8th (less than 20,000) classes now have the option to keep their district attorneys from serving on the prison boards, which helps them avoid the perception of a conflict of interest and resulting legal bills.

Blake’s Senate Bill 705 would give counties of the 3rd (210,000 to 499,999 residents), 4th (145,000 to 209,999) and 5th (90,000 to 144,999) that same option.

“District attorneys must occasionally prosecute inmates, guards or employees of a prison on whose board they serve,” Blake said. “My bill would help counties – like Lackawanna, Luzerne and Monroe – avoid expensive legal challenges that may happen due to this perceived conflict of interest.

“Instead of being mandatory, SB 705 would make it optional for a district attorney to serve on the county prison board. This will alleviate any potential liability that a DA would face in association with an incident at their county lockup,” he said.

Lackawanna County District Attorney Andy Jarbola said he was pleased with the Senate’s action today, and appreciated Sen. Blake’s commitment to easing this problem.

“I have been saying for years that a conflict of interest exists for DAs to sit on prison boards,” Jarbola said. “The conflict exists on a couple of fronts: 1) How do our respective DA offices prosecute prison employees who commit crimes at the jail; and, 2) My office puts people in prison for committing crimes and now, as a board member, I supervise them. To me the conflict is inherently obvious. I thank Sen. Blake for his help in this matter.”

The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association has also supported Blake’s SB 705, noting the optional element for counties to opt out of Title 61 (Prisons and Parole).

Pennsylvania counties of the 3rd class include Berks, Chester, Cumberland, Dauphin, Erie, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Luzerne, Northampton, Westmoreland, and York.

Counties of the 4th class include Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Centre, Fayette, Franklin, Monroe, Schuylkill, and Washington.

The commonwealth’s 5th class counties count Adams, Blair, Lawrence, Lebanon, Lycoming, Mercer, and Northumberland.

Senate Bill 705 moves to the House for its consideration.