WILKES-BARRE -- The theft trial of Wilkes-Barre Township Fire Chief John Paul Yuknavich was continued indefinitely Wednesday after a dramatic day of verbal sparring between the prosecutor and judge.
Going against advice from a colleague, Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick asked Judge Joseph Sklarosky Jr. to recuse himself from presiding over the trial.
Melnick said he received an anonymous phone call Tuesday night claiming Sklarosky and Yuknavich‚??s attorney, Barry Dyller, had dinner together about a month ago.
Sklarosky immediately denied the request, telling Melnick the dinner was attended by 12 people and the Yuknavich case was not discussed. Details about the dinner and where it was held were not released.
Melnick had confronted Dyller about the dinner prior to Sklarosky coming out of his chambers.
Sklarosky was forced to continue the trial after Melnick filed an appeal with the state Superior Court challenging the judge‚??s ruling on Tuesday that prohibited the use of a Nov. 8, 2008 bank withdrawal and 15 bounced checks.
Melnick said the excluded evidence ‚??substantially handicaps‚?Ě his prosecution of Yuknavich.
Wednesday‚??s hearing did not miss a beat from how Tuesday‚??s theatrical proceeding ended with Sklarosky threatening to jail Melnick on a contempt of court charge.
Sklarosky has been critical of Melnick‚??s filing of court papers since Dec. 11.
Melnick was answering questions from Dyller about the number of bank withdrawals made, specifically CFG Community Bank.
‚??He may have,‚?Ě Melnick simply said, initiating a critical response from Sklarosky.
‚??I find your answer is non-responsive,‚?Ě Sklarosky said.
‚??He may have, he may have laundered money through that bank,‚?Ě Melnick reluctantly said.
Yuknavich, 49, is charged by state police at Wyoming with 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.
After Yuknavich was charged in December 2011, auditors allegedly uncovered more than $200,000 missing from the fire department. Yuknavich has been charged with stealing only $11,865.
No charges have been filed related to the recently uncovered missing funds.
Sklarosky found Melnick in contempt of court but stayed the contempt charge due to the appeal. The judge noted Melnick had displayed a ‚??continuing pattern of contempt for this court of institution.‚?Ě
Jurors selected over a two-day period were kept in another courtroom and did not witness the dramatic proceedings on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Sklarosky dismissed the jury, advising it the trial has been continued indefinitely due to the appeal.