WILKES-BARRE — An attorney representing a Hazleton man facing felony assault charges is questioning a possible conflict of interest with the district judge and assistant district attorney, who are related.
Attorney Joseph D’Andrea believed the issue of a conflict was negated when his client, Ralph Dura, 32, surrendered at the office of District Judge Joseph Zola on March 5.
Hazleton police charged Dura with aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment and propulsion of missiles onto roadways in connection with a shooting on Feb. 17. Dura was released on $100,000 bail.
When Dura appeared before District Judge Zola on March 5, D’Andrea asked if the judge’s son, Assistant District Attorney Daniel Zola, was going to be assigned to prosecute the case.
D’Andrea said that if the younger Zola was going to be assigned, he was going to request the preliminary hearing be reassigned to another district judge.
“We had a discussion in open court at the preliminary arraignment,” D’Andrea said. “I thought it was settled until I received a text message from the detective indicating Daniel Zola was going to handle the case but not at the preliminary hearing.”
Joseph Zola and Daniel Zola could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
A message for District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis was not returned to determine how criminal cases in the Hazleton area are assigned to assistant district attorneys.
Daniel Zola is a part-time assistant district attorney. He also has his own law office in West Hazleton.
D’Andrea questioned if there is an ethics violation with the younger Zola prosecuting cases that were processed through his father’s court.
“It sure screams conflict of interest,” D’Andrea said.
Dura was scheduled for his preliminary hearing on Monday.
Earlier that morning, D’Andrea requested a continuance for time to petition Luzerne County Court to have the case reassigned to another district judge.
D’Andrea said he heard no response and the preliminary hearing was held before District Judge Zola without Dura and his attorney. Because Dura failed to show, an arrest warrant was issued and the case was sent to county court.
D’Andrea filed two motions in county court this week to have the arrest warrant vacated and to remand the case for a preliminary hearing.
Judge Fred Pierantoni Jr. voided the arrest warrant, and scheduled a hearing on March 26 to determine if the case will be remanded for a preliminary hearing.