Powell Sworn In As New DA

January 3, 2018 GMT

Mark Powell, a veteran attorney who upended decades of Republican control of the Lackawanna County district attorney’s office with his November election victory, took the oath of office Tuesday and became the county’s new top law enforcement officer.

Powell, 53, beamed from the front of a packed courtroom and remarked at his excitement to begin the transition into his new role as district attorney.

“I’ve surrounded myself with very experienced advisers and I’m determined to make my vision a reality,” Powell said.

President Judge Michael J. Barrasse administered the oath. The dozens in attendance stood and applauded.

Family, friends, employees of the district attorney’s office, fellow lawyers and elected officials attended to congratulate Powell. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright offered well wishes.

“Mark, you have big shoes to fill,” Cartwright said.

Four former county district attorneys — Paul Mazzoni, Ernie Preate,, Andy Jarbola and Barrasse — attended. Both Jarbola and Barrasse are county judges.

Powell said he will begin today by interviewing all the lawyers in the district attorney’s office to make staffing decisions, which may be final by the end of the month. A choice for his first assistant district attorney, essentially second in command, may come by the halfway point of January.

Many of the judges seated at the courtroom’s bench spoke of Powell’s prowess as a litigator and of the legacy Powell’s name carries in the local legal community. They also recognized the heavy responsibility he now shoulders.

Barrasse remarked that Powell’s job is perhaps more difficult now than any prior district attorney’s. Judge Trish Corbett, also a former prosecutor, remarked that it is just as much a prosecutor’s job to keep an innocent person from being wrongfully accused as it is to hold the guilty accountable. Corbett recalled dropping prosecutions in the middle of trials because she did not believe she had the evidence.

“When you’re running for office you say ‘I’m gonna be tough on crime, tough on crime, tough on crime,’” Corbett said. “And we all need to be tough on crime but you need, most of all, to be compassionate and be sure that no innocent person is ever wrongfully accused.”

Jarbola offered some advice to Powell: don’t micromanage. He also offered advice to Powell’s wife, Donna: have patience.

Powell won the seat in a hotly contested election against Republican Gene Talerico, the former longtime first assistant district attorney under Jarbola, and became the first Democrat elected to the office since 1965.

A defense attorney and civil litigator with nearly 30 years of experience, he is board certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy as a criminal trial and civil trial specialist.

In a speech Tuesday after Barrasse swore him in, Powell reiterated earlier campaign promises to expand the office’s community outreach program, mentor young assistant district attorneys, shield the elderly from fraud and battle the opioid epidemic raging everywhere.

“I have a clear vision and a commitment to inspire the type of improvements that I believe can implement in the DA’s office,” Powell said.

In January 2016, Jarbola, the last elected district attorney, ascended to the bench as a Common Pleas Court judge. The county’s judiciary unanimously voted to appoint Deputy District attorney Shane Scanlon.

Talerico ran as a Republican and handily defeated Scanlon in May. He fought Powell in the first contested race for district attorney since Jarbola bested Democrat Harry McGrath in 2001.

Judge Terrence Nealon recognized Scanlon on Tuesday for the work he’s done during the last two years as an appointed district attorney. Scanlon is leaving the office in good shape, Nealon said.

Scanlon said he will remain at the office for a short time to help Powell transition in. He may go into private practice after that.

District attorneys serve four-year terms and make $175,573 a year.

Contact the writer: jkohut@timesshamrock.com, 570-348-9144; @jkohutTT on Twitter