Friday, July 11, 2014

Judge: Delay OK in fire chiefâ??s theft trial

February 20. 2013 12:48AM
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WILKES-BARRE – A Luzerne County judge on Friday denied a motion to dismiss theft charges against Wilkes-Barre Township Fire Chief John Yuknavich, who claimed prosecutors were negligent for failing to bring him to trial within one year as required by law.

Judge Joseph Sklarosky Jr. agreed prosecutors had failed to properly request the judge schedule a trial date, but determined other factors outside their control led to delays that caused the case to languish.

Yuknavich, 49, is scheduled to go on trial Monday on two counts of theft and one count each of access device fraud and receiving stolen property for allegedly stealing more than $11,800 from the township fire department.

The District Attorney's Office has acknowledged Yuknavich, who was charged on Dec. 6, 2011, was not brought to trial within a year, but contends it should not be held responsible for the delay.

At a hearing Friday, Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick said much of the delay was caused by a dispute with Yuknavich's attorney, Barry Dyller, over the pre-trial release of certain documents. Dyller has been battling with prosecutors to provide him more specific information regarding the theory it plans to advance to prove its case.

Dyller contends Melnick intentionally has withheld information to which he is entitled; therefore the delays in resolving those issues should not be held against Yuknavich.

Dyller also noted Melnick never served Dyller or Sklarosky with a notice that that he was seeking a trial date, which caused further delay.

Melnick maintained that the case manager for the District Attorney's Office sent an email to Sklarosky's secretary in October asking the judge to schedule a trial date.

But evidence presented at Friday's hearing revealed the email asked if there was anything scheduled on the case, and did not specifically request the judge set a trial date. Sklarosky said he found it disturbing that Melnick was attempting to say the email requested a trial, finding that interpretation is not even close to the facts.

Despite that, Sklarosky said part of delay was caused by the dispute over the release of documents. He did not feel that should be held against prosecutors.

Dyller also has filed a challenge to the prosecution's request to introduce at trial evidence that Yuknavich failed to supply the state with records relating to a separate investigation.

Sklarosky took that matter under advisement and will issue a ruling prior to the trial.

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