Attorney general sends Helfrich eligibility case to DA-elect Sunday
York County District Attorney-elect Dave Sunday will look into Michael Helfrich’s legal eligibility to serve as York City mayor after the two men take office at the start of 2018, according to the state Attorney General’s Office.
Outgoing District Attorney Tom Kearney recused himself from the case in November following Helfrich’s electoral victory over York City Mayor Kim Bracey, leaving Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office to weigh a potential challenge.
Sunday and Shapiro’s staff “have mutually agreed that DA-elect Sunday will review Helfrich’s case in its entirety when he is sworn into office on Jan. 2,” Shapiro’s office announced Friday, Dec. 15, in a news release.
Kyle King, spokesman for the York County District Attorney’s Office, could not provide an estimate on how long Sunday’s full review will take, and a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office could not be reached for comment Friday, Dec. 15.
Infamous crime? Helfrich was 21 when he pleaded guilty in 1991 to two felony drug charges, after he was arrested with a man carrying psychedelic drugs. Helfrich spent 45 days in York County Prison and was released after his plea, when the judge determined “he was not the player in this.”
That conviction was the basis of a challenge from Bracey in 2011 after Helfrich was elected to serve on the York City Council.
Bracey filed her challenge after Kearney recused himself and then-Attorney General Linda Kelly declined to file a lawsuit. Kearney had served as Helfrich’s defense attorney for his 1991 charges.
Then-President York County Common Pleas Judge Stephen Linebaugh ruled in August 2012 that Helfrich’s felony conviction does not qualify as an “infamous crime,” breaking decades of case law in Pennsylvania under which all felonies were considered infamous.
Bracey declined to appeal Linebaugh’s ruling to a higher court, and Helfrich served out his four-year term before being re-elected to the council in 2015. Helfrich took over as city council president in November 2016.
'Already decided': Helfrich has repeatedly said he believes the courts have already settled the issue, since he has served in public office for the last six years.
“A decision has already been made on whether or not I can serve in an office of public trust for the people of York City,” Helfrich said at the end of November. “My limited understanding of our judicial system makes me fairly confident this has been decided. I would not have run, frankly, for this office if I did not think it was already decided.”
York City resident Rick Loper had promised to challenge Helfrich’s eligibility to serve as mayor if the district attorney and attorney general declined to pursue a challenge.
“We have laws that are on the books that are not being enforced within our own city right now — laws on convicted felons, jobs they can hold, elected and not, and we’re not enforcing them,” Loper said at the council’s Nov. 21 meeting.
“I’m asking the council to step up to the plate and deal with this issue because there is a grassroots movement that’s saying, ‘Look. There is something wrong here.’ Is it going to be up to us to file the lawsuit, or are you going to file the lawsuit and pursue the law?” Loper asked the council in November.