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AG's office appealing former Rep. Stetler's new trial

David Weissman
York Dispatch
Former state Rep. Steve Stetler, more than five years since being convicted on public corruption charges, will receive a new trial.

The state Office of Attorney General isn't letting its conviction of former state Rep. Steve Stetler go without a fight.

The York County Democrat, who was convicted in 2012 of misusing public funds and state employees for legislative campaigns, was awarded a new trial after Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas Judge John Cherry vacated Stetler's judgment of sentence earlier this year.

The AG's office is now appealing Cherry's decision to the state Superior Court, according to online court filings.

Joe Grace, a spokesman for the AG's office, said his office has valid arguments against Cherry's decision that it will make in the appellate court.

Cherry's written opinion noted that Stetler received ineffective counsel when his attorney agreed to allow former Dauphin County Judge Todd Hoover, who presided over the trial, into the deliberation room to answer jurors' questions.

More:Former Rep. Steve Stetler granted new trial

Hoover died shortly after his retirement in 2016.

Cherry wrote in his opinion that Hoover was a man of honor and integrity, though his responses in the jury room "deviated from the vaguely established limits of discussion addressed with counsel and included error and prejudicial reference to facts."

Attorney John Uhler, who is now representing Stetler, said after Cherry's opinion was filed in April that it was the right decision.

Reached by phone Friday, Uhler maintained that it was the right decision and said he would "vigorously defend" Cherry's position.

Stetler spent 16 months in York County Prison following his conviction and still owes more than $480,000 in fines and restitution, according to online court records.

He maintained his innocence throughout and since the trial, but the state Superior and Supreme courts declined to hear his appeals in late 2014 and early 2015, respectively.

During the initial trial, about three dozen political, business and community leaders testified as character witnesses for Stetler, including former Gov. Ed Rendell, current Gov. Tom Wolf and former York County Commissioner Steve Chronister.

Wolf said recently that he supported the court's decision to grant Stetler a new trial.

A jury found Stetler guilty of conflict of interest, criminal conspiracy and four separate counts of theft.

He represented York City and its surrounding area from 1991 to 2006 before stepping down to head the Pennsylvania Economy League. He served at the league until being chosen by Rendell to run the state Revenue Department.

Stetler became head of the state Department of Revenue in November 2008, but he resigned from that post in December 2009, just hours before criminal charges against him were announced.

While Hoover ultimately delivered Stetler's sentence, the judge was quick to point out Stetler wasn't the mastermind behind the Pennsylvania Legislature's public corruption scandal, often referred to as Bonusgate, which resulted in jail time for numerous Republican and Democratic caucus members in the state.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.