Suspended Somerset County District Attorney Jeff Thomas has filed a lawsuit against the county for suspending his salary and benefits following his arrest on sexual assault charges last September.
In the lawsuit, a Pittsburgh-based law firm alleges that the state’s Constitution protects elected officials from having their pay “increased or diminished” while in office, unless they are impeached or resign.
Authorities say Thomas was accused last September of sexually assaulting a woman inside her Windber-area home.
Following his arrest, the lawsuit states that Thomas took a “voluntary leave of absence” to defend himself against the charges.
On October 27, 2021, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court temporarily suspended Thomas’ law license due to the allegations.
The lawsuit argues that “at no time” was Thomas completely disbarred from practicing law, as his license was only suspended temporarily.
On November 26, 2021, the Somerset County Salary Board voted to suspend Thomas’ salary and benefits.
The lawsuit argues that the salary board cited a newly signed law, Act 88, which amended the state’s qualifications for the office of District Attorney, as the reason for suspending his salary.
“We feel that the complaint speaks for itself. The voters hired Mr. Thomas. It’s just our position that he has not been impeached or resigned. His criminal case is ongoing, and he’s entitled to his pay. There was nothing in the law — that was passed last year — that would make that retroactive, or even stated, that it was without pay. The law just basically stated that he cannot serve as District Attorney, but that has nothing to do with his pay. Until he’s either impeached or he resigns and he hasn’t done either he’s disputing the criminal charges against him and maintaining his innocence. It’s our position that he’s still entitled to his pay,”
Act 88, which was signed into law on Nov. 17, now requires any District Attorney to “continually hold an active law license while in office,” or face suspension.
Thomas argues that since the law was signed after he was charged and placed on temporary suspension, that it cannot be “retroactively” applied.
The lawsuit also claims that Act 88 does not specify that a DA who has been placed on suspension be suspended without pay.
Thomas is seeking to have his pay and benefits be reinstated, as well as any back salary and benefits.