Jonelle Eshbach running for York County DA
Being York County's district attorney has been Jonelle Harter Eshbach's dream job for more than 25 years, and she's made no secret of that. Friday evening, she made it official by announcing she's running for election to be the county's top law-enforcement official.
"It's the job I've always wanted," Eshbach told The York Dispatch.
Eshbach, 54, began her legal career at the York County District Attorney's Office, where she was hired in 1988, according to her resume.
She worked her way up from assistant district attorney to first deputy prosecutor before leaving in 2000.
During her time there, Eshbach worked for 24-year DA Stan Rebert, and he is now serving as one of her honorary campaign chairs.
"He is why I want to be DA," she said. "He told me a long time ago it was the best job in the world, and he was right."
Her official campaign chair is York County Sheriff Richard Keuerleber.
'Rewarding': Eshbach said she loved the "tremendous camaraderie" under Rebert's tenure, adding that, if elected, she would strive to re-create it.
"I love being a prosecutor," she said. "It suits me, and it's rewarding to me. ... I've always been that person who cares about crime victims."
She left the DA's office in 2000 for the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office.
"I chose to go to the attorney general's office because it broadened my credentials and allowed me to prosecute high-profile cases, public corruption cases and murder cases across the commonwealth," she said.
During her time there, she served in the agency's capital litigation unit and, for four years, was chair of the agency's Medical/Legal Advisory Board on Child Death, according to her resume.
Eshbach remained at the attorney general's office until 2012, when she became associate chief counsel for enforcement at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's office of chief counsel in Silver Spring, Maryland. She is now an attorney with Eveler and DeArment law firm in the Red Lion area and serves as solicitor for York County Crime Stoppers.
Sandusky case: Her best-known case as senior deputy attorney general was the prosecution of Penn State's former assistant football coach/defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, which she handled from 2009 through its conclusion in 2012.
"The extremely high-profile nature of the defendant and the initial unwillingness of the victims to come forward made this the most difficult case I ever handled," she said.
She was involved in the grand jury investigation of Penn State administrators Gary Schultz, Tim Curley and Graham Spanier for allegedly failing to alert authorities to Sandusky's abuse of children.
The Sandusky case has stayed with her, she said — more than any other case she's prosecuted.
"I did not sleep the night Jerry Sandusky's file first came across my desk ... because I knew the network of young men he had access to. I had given money to The Second Mile," she said, referencing Sandusky's charity for underprivileged and at-risk kids. "I had to keep it all quiet for a long, long time."
Frustration: Eshbach acknowledged she was, at times, extremely frustrated with the number of years it took to bring Sandusky to justice.
"My bosses thought the one young man we had, Victim One, might not be enough to take on the icon Jerry Sandusky — the architect of Linebacker U, the founder of The Second Mile," she said. "I understand why they thought (that). I differed with them, because I'd done many cases over the years that had one victim. ... We always believed there were more victims, but they were very well coached and groomed into silence by Sandusky."
Things changed, she said, "with good police work and a little luck," when police dug up a 1998 report about a prior Sandusky complaint. That happened about the same time former assistant Penn State football coach Mike McQueary came forward and told authorities he saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in a team shower in 2001.
"And all of a sudden, we had a case," Eshbach said.
Her ideas: Eshbach has a number of ideas she'd like implement or at least consider, if elected district attorney.
While at the York County DA's Office, she was in charge of a training program for new attorneys, which she said has since been discontinued. She said she'd like to bring back the program.
Eshbach also said she would encourage prosecutors who want to focus on specific types of cases.
"I would allow prosecutors to specialize and not make them jump from unit to unit, where they're not permitted to get really good at what they do," she said. "There are special skill sets for certain types of cases, and I think when someone is motivated to work on those types of cases and is good at it, they shouldn't be moved to another area just for the sake of moving them."
Central court? She also is thinking about ways to streamline the judicial process.
"I'm very interested in exploring (a) central court. It's worked very effectively for DUIs in Lancaster County, and I've seen central court work very well in other counties," she said. "The idea is it's a one-stop shop where all parties are represented."
It could be held at a centralized location, likely the York County Judicial Center, one day a week for DUI cases and perhaps other nonviolent misdemeanor cases, she said. Prosecutors would be there to speak with defense attorneys, and there would be applications for the county's diversionary program as well as referrals for community service.
Eshbach said she believes a central court would save both money and time.
Her background: Born and raised in Lebanon County, Eshbach graduated from Penn State in 1984, then from Dickinson School of Law in 1987.
She first came to York County in 1987 to work as law clerk for former Common Pleas Judge Emmanuel A. Cassimatis, and nearly a year later she moved to the DA's office.
She is married to Dover-area District Judge David Eshbach, who took office after retiring as chief of Springettsbury Township Police. If elected, Eshbach said she would not appear before her husband to avoid possible conflicts of interest.
They live in Dover Township, where they enjoy riding their horses, she said. The Eshbachs also enjoy traveling, and she spends time gardening.
'Family thing': Jonelle Eshbach has three children, Daniel Bollinger, 22, a senior at Penn State, and 19-year-old twins Caroline and Claudia Bollinger. Caroline is a sophomore at Mansfield University; Claudia is a sophomore at Virginia Tech.
Her stepson, Michael "Mikey" Eshbach, was killed in an ATV mishap June 1, 2013, when he was 24 years old.
She describes herself as a rabid Penn State fan — "it's a family thing" — and a voracious reader.
Her election website, jonelleeshbachforda.com, is expected to be up and running soon, and she plans to have a campaign Facebook page, she said.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.