As it appeared in The Times-Tribune
Aug. 25—Wyoming County prosecutors who twice failed to make a sufficient case against a Tunkhannock Area High School gym teacher they accused of misconduct are not entitled to a transcript her defense had made of a preliminary hearing, a judge ruled Friday.
Defense attorney Peter Paul Olszewski Jr., who represents Ellen Marie Kuzma, said he hoped Friday’s ruling by President Judge Russel D. Shurtleff puts an end to the county district attorney’s office’s pursuit of his client.
“They’re now 0 for 3,” Olszewski said. “At this point, any further action would certainly amount to harassment.”
The commonwealth’s request for the defense’s transcript of an Aug. 8 preliminary hearing involving Kuzma’s case carried “zero legal authority” and would have essentially made Kuzma assist in her own prosecution, Olszewski said.
Prosecutors did not request a stenographer for the hearing because Olszewski already retained one, making a second redundant, District Attorney Joe Peters said. Peters said his office’s request had been customary.
“(Friday’s) proceeding was an effort to obtain that transcript so that our office could review any options available to us within the criminal justice system that would help our victims and their families obtain justice and closure,” Peters said in an email.
District magistrates in Wyoming County twice dismissed criminal charges against Kuzma, 26, who was accused of inappropriate contact with students.
In April, Magisterial District Judge Jennifer Vandine dismissed four felonies and 17 misdemeanors before the case went to a preliminary hearing. Olszewski called the criminal complaint “deficient.”
On Aug. 8, Magisterial District Judge David K. Plummer threw out a refiled complaint that charged three felonies and nine misdemeanors after 5 1/2 hours of testimony by four prosecution witnesses.
Magisterial courts are not courts of record and stenographers are not required to be present for proceedings, said Stacey Witalec, press secretary for the state Supreme Court and the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
However, Olszewski hired Devine Depositions to have a court reporter attend the Aug. 8 hearing and prepare a transcript of what was said.
First Assistant District Attorney Deborah Albert-Heise said in court paperwork she sought a copy of the transcript. Albert-Heise wrote in filings she wanted a copy of the hearing transcript to determine whether authorities will refile a third criminal complaint or seek “other remedies.”
Olszewski refused. The defense attorney said the district attorney’s office is not a party to a private contractual agreement between himself and Devine Depositions.
After a brief hearing Friday, Shurtleff agreed and denied Albert-Heise’s request.
“I’m fully confident DA Peters will bring no further action,” Olszewski said.
Peters said his office believes the students who alleged wrongdoing by Kuzma, who remains on unpaid leave. “We believe them, and as such, have fought for them,” Peters said.
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