WILKES-BARRE — Claiming Luzerne County Judge Joseph Sklarosky Jr. can’t be impartial, prosecutors want another judge to preside over the theft trial of Wilkes-Barre Township Fire Chief John Paul Yuknavich.
Last month Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick questioned the appearance of fairness by raising the issue of Sklarosky attending a dinner party also attended by Yuknavich’s attorney, Barry Dyller, in early January.
In court papers filed Tuesday, District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis and Assistant District Attorney James McMonagle alleged Sklarosky made the statement that the prosecution “doesn’t have a case.” Sklarosky allegedly made the statement after Melnick verbally appealed Sklarosky’s ruling that prohibited the use of 15 bounced checks.
State police at Wyoming alleged Yuknavich, 49, as fire chief for the Wilkes-Barre Township Volunteer Hose Co., stole $11,865 from the fire department’s bank account from 2008 to 2010. Yuknavich is also accused of using the fire department’s credit card at two Sam’s Clubs for $3,706 in personal purchases from 2009 to 2011, according to the criminal complaint.
Investigators allege the checks drawn from the department’s account were returned for insufficient funds due to money that was stolen.
Sklarosky prohibited Melnick from introducing the bounced checks during the trial based on what he believed were missed deadlines and the lateness of filing court records. The judge, in a Dec. 11 order, instructed Melnick to answer Dyller’s request for a detailed account of when the alleged thefts occurred.
Sklarosky accepted Melnick’s answer on Jan. 31, despite Melnick filing court records before that date.
Melnick and Sklarosky verbally sparred over the bounced checks. Sklarosky held Melnick in contempt of court during the pretrial hearing last month, but the contempt charge is delayed pending an appeal to the state Superior Court.
Sklarosky said the party was attended by 12 people, including Dyller, and the Yuknavich case was not discussed.
Prosecutors in their request for a new judge believe the public might question Sklarosky’s impartiality to preside over Yuknavich’s trial.
A hearing on the request will be scheduled at a later date.