Beaver County’s Common Pleas Judges have voted to appoint former District Attorney candidate Frank Martocci into the position of Conflicts Counsel to represent indigent defendants who can not be represented by the Public Defender’s Office.
District Court Administrator Bill Hare notified the Board of Commissioners of the decision by the county’s judges in a memo dated December 15th.
“The Court solicited local attorneys with criminal defense experience to apply for this open conflicts counsel position. Five local attorneys submitted resumes to the Court. Our six Criminal Court Judges, who have witnessed the courtroom work of each of these attorneys, reviewed their resumes and independently rated each candidate,” wrote Hare. “Attorney Frank Martocci came out on top.”
Martocci ran unsuccessfully for District Attorney in the 2015 county elections.
Conflicts counsel were once employees of the court but the attorneys began serving as independent contractors of the county last year to comply with a mandate by the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court. While the Board of Commissioners must ratify the attorneys’ contracts, the county’s judges have determined they still maintain authority to make the hiring decisions.
Commissioner Dan Camp told the Beaver Countian he was unaware that the county’s judges were making a decision on the hiring of conflicts counsel, saying he was going to research whether the Board had the power to overrule them. The Beaver Countian subsequently learned Camp’s statement was not true — he had in fact already discussed the matter with court officials and stated no objection to the hire. Camp has a history of being untruthful to fellow elected officials and the press, often making it difficult for the Beaver Countian to accurately convey to the public the Commissioner’s actual intentions.
While a majority of the county’s judges have now demonstrated their confidence in Frank Martocci, Common Pleas Judge James Ross had just last year raised concerns about Martocci’s ethics in an Opinion dismissing criminal charges against another local attorney.
Judge Ross’ January 2016 opinion came after former Public Defender’s Office Paralegal Dionna Steele testified under oath that then-Assistant District Attorney Frank Martocci had been using her as an intermediary with a criminal defendant as part of an alleged attempt to set up the woman’s defense attorney.
“It is important to note that Martocci is an employee of the Beaver County District Attorney’s Office, and this Court finds it hard to understand how he believed he could direct an employee of another office, which is constantly on the opposing side to the District Attorney’s Office,” wrote Judge Ross in his ruling. “This creates an extremely difficult and unethical problem in that a paralegal in the Public Defender’s Office, acting in her official capacity, was, according to Steele’s testimony, acting at the direction of the District Attorney’s Office, which was the office prosecuting the cases.”
Frank Martocci told the press at the time he had nothing to do with the alleged plot, although he was never called to testify under oath in court about the matter.
District Attorney David Lozier fired Frank Martocci as an employee of the District Attorney’s Office when he took office in January of last year.
Democratic politicos tell the Beaver Countian that Martocci has recently been expressing interest in running for Ambridge Magisterial District Judge to fill a seat vacated by Andrew Hladio, who resigned last month after several women in his office alleged he made repeated unwanted advances towards them.
Memo By Court Administrator Bill Hare To County Commissioners:
With the election of Mitchell Shahen to our Court, there is a vacancy for one conflict counsel position to provide legal services for indigent criminal defendants where the Beaver County Public Defender’s Office has a conflict of interest.
Historically, conflict attorneys were appointed by court order to specific cases at an hourly rate. As a cost savings measure, a number of years ago the Court hired a number of experiened criminal defense attorneys as court employees at a fixed salary paid from the Court’s budget.
Last year the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC) notified all Pennsylvania Courts that conflicts attorneys could no longer remain court employees. Thus, we implemented Court Appointed Independent Contractor Retention Agreements for each of our conflicts attorneys.
Pursuant to Paragraph 1 of those agreements which were adopted by the County by resolution on December 28, 2016, the County agreed that the Court of Common Pleas of Beaver County reserved the right to make the appointments to each conflicts attorney position.
The Court solicited local attorneys with criminal defense experience to apply for this open conflicts counsel position. Five local attorneys submitted resumes to the Court. Our six Criminal Court Judged, who have witnessed the courtroom work of each of these attorneys, reviewed their resumes and independently rated each candidate.
Attorney Frank Martocci came out on top. I have spoken to Mr. Martocci and he has agreed to accept the Independent Contractor Agreement for Conflicts Counsel.
I will ask the Law Department to prepare the standard contract applicable to all other conflicts counsel so that Mr. Martocci can be ready to handle his duties effective January 2, 2018.