It’s been nearly four weeks since newly elected District Attorney Ryan Gardner officially moved into his office on the fourth floor of the Lycoming County Courthouse – and he’s wasted no time in implementing a massive reorganization there, eliminating clerical positions, shuffling workloads and hiring two new detectives.
It’s all part of Gardner’s promise to be tough on crime and to cut through the office’s backlog of cases.
“I had laid the foundation of my plan long before I decided to run,” Gardner said during an exclusive interview with On the PULSE. “The county has been burdened by a significant backlog for a long time and there’s been repercussions as a result of that, including dismissal of cases and things not getting done timely.”
Gardner clinched both the Democrat and Republican nominations for district attorney last April, giving him over eight months to finalize the new structure for the office.
After officially taking office in January, he was quick to eliminate what he determined to be extraneous positions and added two part-time veteran detectives, Trenton Peacock and Lenny Dincher, both of whom retired with extensive experience in violent crime cases with the Williamsport Bureau of Police.
“We’re never going to end violent crime, but we have to contain it as much as we can,” he said. “The more law enforcement we can get on the street, the better.”
Adding boots on the ground will help weed out drug dealers and, Gardner hopes, temper the spread of narcotics throughout the region.
This all serves to advance his primary goals of reducing repeat offenders and violent crime throughout the region. Both are goals common for new district attorneys, but Gardner said he is backing up his campaign promise with immediate action.
‘A tried and true practice’
First on the agenda is digging through the hundreds of backlogged cases.
In July, county Judge Marc Lovecchio blasted the district attorney’s office for poor organization and record keeping, which resulted in charges against a convicted felon being thrown out due to violations of Rule 600 – a defendant’s right to a speedy trial. The case was not processed within the required 365 days, and Jamir M. Ceruti, of New Jersey, was released. He is currently facing similar federal charges.
From an administrative perspective, eliminating backlog and processing cases quickly is a key way to allow the office to focus on the more serious cases, Gardner said.
“I had many discussions with the employees of the DA’s office leading up to January,” Gardner said, adding he determined which employees could handle additional responsibility as he implemented the reshuffle.
In addition, adding new part-time detectives to cut down on the backlog of cases would eliminate extra paperwork and diminish the amount of staff needed in the office.
But, Gardner said, he isn’t reinventing the wheel. Instead, he’s mirroring the organization method used while he was an assistant district attorney under former DA Michael Dinges, roughly 12 years ago.
“I’m just returning to a tried and true practice,” he said.
Fighting the ‘good ol’ boys’ club
Stepping into his first foray as a public figure, Gardner said he doesn’t take to campaigning well, but he is also cognizant of the need to fight local stigmas of a ‘good ol’ boys’ club that often muddy the waters of small-town governments.
“It’s seeking justice with blinders on, as far as race, creed, color, prior friendships, current friends,” Gardner said. “It’s about seeking justice and doing what’s right.”
While collaboration between departments and municipalities is key in fighting crime, Gardner is adamant that allowing special favors for friends or political parties is not on his agenda.
It’s a task that often holds a level of difficulty for local politicians, but it’s one for which Gardner says he is ready.
Here for the long haul
Gardner’s self-described “lofty” goals for the district attorney’s office will take a long time to see through.
He plans to remain the county’s top prosecutor for as long as voters will have him. He has no immediate plans to make this a stepping stone to a judgeship.
“Right now, I just want to give this job 110%,” he said.
In fact, Gardner knew the District Attorney’s Office was where he wanted to end up after his brief stint as an ADA under Dinges, saying it was the best job he ever had. But pay was slim for ADAs in those days and Gardner decided to transition into private practice.
He waited until then District Attorney and current county Judge Eric Linhardt’s three terms in office were up and put his name in the running for the 2019 race.
Now, the office cubicles are being rearranged, offices are moving around and staff is clearing out old paperwork – it’s a complete makeover in the works.
“Once the footprint of the office has changed here, I think it’s time to just settle in and dig into the work,” Gardner said.
He has nothing but appreciation for the staff in the office, many of whom he was able to reward with pay raises during the shuffle, stressing the need to reward staff for good work and their willingness to take on extra responsibilities.
“I think it’s important to demonstrate to the people that you work with that your work ethic is equal to, or greater than, what you expect from them,” Gardner said. “I think they are equally as excited as I am to really get everything finalized for the reorganization of the office.”