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RONALD E. SOJA v. PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE (06/05/79)

decided: June 5, 1979.

RONALD E. SOJA, PETITIONER
v.
PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE, RESPONDENT



Appeals from the Orders of the Commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police in case of Appeal of Ronald E. Soja, dated September 22, 1977.

COUNSEL

Gary M. Lightman, with him Mancke & Lightman, for petitioner.

Michael H. Garrety, Deputy Attorney General, with him J. Andrew Smyser, Deputy Attorney General, and Robert P. Kane, Attorney General, for respondent.

President Judge Bowman and Judges Crumlish, Jr., Mencer, Blatt, DiSalle, Craig and MacPhail. Judges Wilkinson, Jr. and Rogers did not participate. Opinion by Judge DiSalle.

Author: Disalle

[ 43 Pa. Commw. Page 227]

On September 22, 1977, the Commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police (Commissioner) ordered that Ronald E. Soja (Soja) be dismissed from his position as state police trooper, effective September 28, 1977. The Commissioner's decision was the culmination of an extensive departmental disciplinary process.

After charges had been brought against Soja by his commanding officer, the Eastern Regional Disciplinary Board of the State Police (Disciplinary Board) convened on May 23, 1977. A hearing was held and the Disciplinary Board found Soja guilty of two second level offenses, approved third level action as to the remaining charges, and recommended that a Court-Martial Board be assembled. He was suspended from his position without pay, pending disposition of the charges by the Court-Martial Board. Shortly thereafter, Soja appealed to this Court, challenging

[ 43 Pa. Commw. Page 228]

    the Disciplinary Board's action and requesting that the court-martial proceedings be enjoined. A hearing was conducted and Judge Wilkinson, treating the matter as a request for temporary relief, denied Soja's petition for stay on June 24, 1977. The Disciplinary Board met again on July 12, 1977, to consider additional charges. It recommended that Soja's suspension continue and that the additional charges also be reviewed by the Court-Martial Board. On August 23, 1977, the Court-Martial Board was convened and testimony was received. After two days of hearings, the Court-Martial Board found Soja guilty of some charges, innocent of others, and recommended to the Commissioner that he be dismissed from the State Police. As noted previously, the Commissioner accepted this recommendation and discharged Soja on September 22, 1977.

Soja alleges that various errors were committed at each level of the proceedings. We will address each seriatim.

Soja's first, and most strongly argued, contention concerns the alleged inability of his attorney to fully participate in the hearing before the Disciplinary Board. Likening that hearing to a preliminary hearing in a criminal proceeding, Soja characterizes it as a "critical stage" in the disciplinary process and claims, therefore, that his due process rights were violated when he was denied effective assistance of counsel. The fatal flaw in his argument is that there is nothing in the record to support Soja's claim that the Disciplinary Board prohibited his attorney from actively participating.

The facts, as seen from the transcript of the hearing held on May 23, 1977, are as follows. Soja's attorney, Mr. Lightman, objected at the outset of the ...


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