ALLEGHENY COUNTY, Pa. — Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala is emphatically denying a report that prosecutors are playing politics with criminal cases.
“I don’t know what you guys believe you know, but my guys are saying this is bulls***,” said Zappala.
During an impromptu news conference Friday morning, Zappala denied published reports suggesting that two of his prosecutors said they could not withdraw criminal charges in one case or make a plea deal in another case because of politics.
“No, absolutely not. Absolutely. That is very untrue,” said Zappala.
The report suggested that Zappala’s employees would not negotiate with public defenders because Zappala is facing a challenge from Chief Public Defender Matt Dugan.
Zappala repeatedly said that his employees are barred from engaging in politics.
“Nobody is permitted to engage in politics in this office as a county employee. If you engage in politics, you’re summarily dismissed,” said Zappala.
Zappala did confirm there was one incident involving a gun case.
He wouldn’t go into any detail, but said he spoke with the prosecutor and issued a verbal warning.
“It’s a personnel matter, which is you cannot engage in politics and you must follow the procedures. You go in there and you do your job. That’s all I asked of my people and that’s all they’ve done,” said Zappala.
Zappala’s opponent, Dugan, told our partners at TribLIVE.com he’s considering filing a complaint with the state attorney disciplinary board.
“This all comes from a lack of leadership, lack of training and lack of support for the attorneys there,” Dugan told the Tribune-Review.
But Zappala, who’s running for a seventh term, believes the accusations of politics are politically motivated.
“I don’t ask anybody to contribute to my campaign. I don’t ask anybody to get involved in my campaign. It’s been two decades that I’ve been in office, and this is the first time we’re having this conversation,” said Zappala, who suggested this was happening because he’s ahead in the polls.
Channel 11 spoke with Matt Dugan Friday evening and he said tongue-in-cheek that he didn’t know he was that far behind in the polls. Dugan added that his internal polling data shows him “well positioned” to defeat Zappala in the upcoming May primary. Dugan also won the endorsement of the Allegheny County Democratic Party.
“What’s not new is Zappala using his office for political gain, and retribution against anyone willing to challenge him, or question the practices of his office,” said Dugan.
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