The trial is on. A Luzerne County judge Monday blocked last-minute attempts by Wilkes-Barre Township Fire Chief John Yuknavich's attorney to dismiss the theft case against him. Baring any last-ditch surprises, the trial is expected to begin today as prosecutors attempt to prove allegations that Yuknavich illegally wrote himself $11,865 in fire department checks and spent $3,706 on the fire company's Sam's Club credit card.
Jury selection, which began Monday, is scheduled to continue this morning, followed by opening arguments.
Yuknavich's attorney Barry Dyller had argued that Judge Joseph Sklarosky Jr. should dismiss the case due to "prosecutorial misconduct" and for violating his right to a speedy trial. Dyller said prosecutors used "oppressive procedures" by issuing improper subpoenas and delaying the release of critical discovery documents, including one sent to his office Friday. He also blamed prosecutors for the delays in bringing Yuknavich to trial, noting he was charged 14 months ago.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick argued that any concerns Dyller had about prosecution tactics did not affect his right to a fair trial.
Following a testy back-and-forth about Melnick's tone in addressing the court, Sklarosky eventually sided with prosecutors and denied the motions to drop the charges.
Prosecutors list the township volunteer fire department as the victim in the case, but it was unclear if any fellow firefighters will testify at trial. Four days after state police charged Yuknavich with stealing from the company, the department's membership unanimously reappointed him fire chief.
In court Monday, Dyller and Melnick also argued about what should be admitted to evidence in regard to Yuknavich's debt at the time of the thefts. Melnick said Yuknavich's debt was "evidence of a motive," while Dyller argued that just because someone has debts doesn't make him a thief. Sklarosky said he would make rulings on the issue Tuesday before trial.
Melnick noted records show Yuknavich was buried in debt and the Capital One credit card company issued a $18,000 judgment against him around the time the thefts began in October 2008.
"It's just common sense. Who is more likely to steal? A guy who is really under incredible financial pressure," Melnick said. "It's not just a debt, this guy is getting hammered with judgments."
Written by The Citizens' Voice