Michael Melnick a prosecutor for nearly 30 years, maintains he was “unjustly terminated” by District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis in March 2016. He is seeking reinstatement with full seniority and lost wages and benefits.
In the latest salvo of that ongoing battle, county officials, on behalf of the DA’s office, filed a petition in county court on Friday seeking to vacate a Feb. 9 decision by arbitrator Thomas M. Krapsho, which allowed Melnick to continue his grievance.
Melnick was terminated via a letter sent to him by Salavantis dated March 1, 2016, but county officials have never revealed why, citing the confidentiality of personnel issues.
In the letter, Salavantis wrote that the “district attorney has the unrefuted authority … to reprimand, suspend or terminate your employment with Luzerne County.”
Melnick filed a grievance March 7, 2016, under the collective bargaining contract.
Krapsho ruled that Melnick’s grievance is “arbitrable” after presiding over a hearing on Oct. 4 between the county and Teamsters Local 401, which represents assistant district attorneys and public defenders.
The hearing involved language in the collective bargaining contract on whether Melnick has the right to grieve his termination.
During labor negotiations of the current collective bargaining contract, Salavantis in March 2014 notified the county solicitor — at that time attorney David Pedri — that she intended to reserve the right as district attorney to hire, suspend and/or discharge employees within the district attorney’s office.
Due to the language in the labor agreement, Salavantis does not believe an arbitrator has jurisdiction to hear Melnick’s grievance.
Krapsho, in his decision, found that the county and district attorney did not pursue the district attorney’s rights to hire, suspend and/or discharge employees in the collective bargaining contract.
Prior to Melnick’s termination, Salavantis placed him on paid administrative leave in September 2014 shortly after local news media published stories about him visiting a female inmate at the county prison.
During a 2014 radio interview, Melnick stated he was in a relationship with the inmate and visited her to discuss legal advice on civil issues she was facing, although he stressed he was not representing her. Prison visitor logs showed Melnick visited the inmate nine times over a 10-day period, published reports said.
According to a grievance Melnick filed over his paid suspension, he claimed he was suspended for missing a day of work because he was sick and bedridden, and Salavantis falsely alleged that guilty pleas and pre-trial forms of cases he prosecuted were not completed.