Montco Legal Community Reacts To ADA Suspension
Two decades into her job, Assistant District Attorney Karen G. Ricca was suspended without pay on April 27.
That's how Attorney Theodore H. Swan Jr. described his reaction when he learned Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Karen Ricca was suspended from her job without pay.
Other local lawyers are also stunned over the news, he said.
Ricca led -- and decided whether applicants qualified for -- the county's Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition program. The pretrial measure for first-time offenders of nonviolent crimes can prevent them from getting a criminal record.
Ricca, who earned about $75,000 a year, was suspended without pay on April 27. She could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
"In the small world of criminal defense ... we all know each other," Swan said on Wednesday. "Karen's been doing (ARD) for years and years ... We all know Karen."
Ricca was professional and promptly returned phone calls, he said.
"I've never had a problem with Karen," Swan said and added he's known her since the beginning of her career with the county over 20 years ago. Swan's extensive 40-year career includes a stint as assistant district attorney for the county in the 1970s.
Although there's no appeal for entrance into the ARD program -- either it's granted or not -- Ricca was willing to hear his concerns over a case, Swan said.
"Sometimes it worked and sometimes she said, 'No,'" he said and added Ricca was fair, never granted him special favors or targeted him with negativity. "Did I always agree with her? No."
An immediate suspension without pay is serious, however, "reasonable suspicion isn't guilty," Swan said.
While at the courthouse in Norristown this week for an ARD hearing, Swan talked to colleagues about Ricca's suspension.
The local legal community is "absolutely stunned and shocked by the whole thing," he said. "Karen has had a very successful and honorable career."
Ricca, one of roughly 40 assistant district attorneys in the county, a few years ago received the District Attorney's Medal that's "presented to those employees who have provided outstanding service to the citizens of Montgomery County, thereby bringing credit upon the Office of the District Attorney and the law enforcement community," the county's website states.
Ricca's reputation and professional work ethic make the suspension hard to understand, Swan said.
District Attorney Risa Ferman hasn't given a reason for the act, calling it a confidential personnel matter. Ferman was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, Pennsylvania’s Unified Judicial System web portal listed no actions involving Ricca.
And, Elaine Bixler, secretary of the Disciplinary Board Of The Supreme Court Of Pennsylvania, said she had no record of a complaint filed against Ricca.
"All complaints are confidential until formal charges are filed against an attorney," Bixler said.
Attorney Steve Fairlie, of Fairlie & Lippy, PC, worked with Ricca in the late 1990s.
"I've known her since I was in the DA's office," he said on Wednesday and described Ricca as a passionate, good prosecutor who deeply cared about children and victims.
Ricca followed a mantra set by former Montgomery County District Attorney Mike Marino to "do the right thing," Fairlie said.
"I don't know any details, I'm just saddened that a divorced mother of two kids is ... suspended without pay," Fairlie said of Ricca. "I had thought that the ARD unit was well-run."
Swan said although Montgomery County's ARD program has a "huge, huge caseload" that's larger than many nearby municipalities, the office was professional and efficient.
In an April 14 interview with The Morning Call, Ricca -- co-author of the “Pennsylvania ARD Handbook" -- said due to the sick economy, more and more people entering ARD are eligible for reduced fees.
"I've been doing this for a long time," Ricca told the Call. "Within the last two years, I've seen a tremendous increase in public defender cases."
Today, Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Lauren McNulty leads the ARD office. And while questions surround Ricca's suspension, ARD cases proceed.
"No matter who is in charge of the division, the division will be there," Swan said.