WILKES-BARRE – A judge twice warned Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick to watch his tone Monday during a court proceeding that settled outstanding issues in the theft case against Wilkes-Barre Township Fire Chief John Paul Yuknavich.
During contested exchanges between Melnick and Yuknavich's attorney, Barry Dyller, Judge Joseph Sklarosky Jr. told Melnick he was reminding him of a moth flying too close to a fire.
In his attempt to dismiss the case against his client, Dyller has complained he has received evidence late or at the 11th hour, including 911 dispatches for the Wilkes-Barre Township Fire Department he was given Monday morning.
Dyller also argued Melnick engaged in prosecutorial misconduct by issuing subpoenas ordering witnesses to appear with documents on a holiday, when the courthouse was closed, and changing the date on the subpoena.
There was no violation of the defendant's constitutional rights, Melnick said, raising his voice. Mr. Dyller like a magician says, ‘Violation of his rights. Throw it out.' There were errors of subpoena authority. It has nothing to do with the defendant getting a fair trial.
Watch your tone. You're getting into dangerous territory, the judge warned Melnick. Watch the way you treat this court.
Yuknavich, 49, is accused of stealing $11,865 from the fire department's bank account from 2008 to 2010 and using the department's credit card at two Sam's Clubs for $3,706 in personal purchases from 2009 to 2011.
Melnick plans to introduce Yuknavich's personal financial debt as a motive for allegedly stealing the money. Court records indicate Capital One filed an $18,046 judgment against Yuknavich on July 28, 2008. The judgment has never been settled.
Melnick said the alleged thefts were discovered when the fire department bounced several checks.
The defendant was running the whole show. The Wilkes-Barre Township Fire Department was bouncing checks, and creditors were harassing the fire department. Why? The defendant was stealing money, Melnick said.
The judge warned Melnick a second time when Melnick was explaining the procedure of turning over evidence.
Mr. Melnick, you're reminding me of that moth that flies closer and closer to the fire until it gets zapped, Sklarosky said. A jury was selected Monday afternoon for the trial, which is expected to last four to five days. Opening statements are expected to begin this morning.