Dauphin County DA Applies Experience to New Role as Lead Prosecutor
Fran Chardo is Dauphin County’s new District Attorney. He was sworn in on January 2, 2018 after he was appointed following his predecessor, Ed Marsico’s transition to Judge of the Court of Common Pleas. While the title District Attorney and some of the job responsibilities may be new to Fran, the role of prosecutor and the responsibilities that come with it have been his life’s work. PDAA recently caught up with Fran, one of 12 new DAs to take office in Pennsylvania in 2018.
What prepared you the most to take on the role of District Attorney?
Well, I have been in the office for 24 years and I was the first assistant for a good part of that time, since 2003. The experience of being the first assistant was good preparation, but nothing can really prepare you for the job. The first two weeks made me realize that I didn’t know everything that the DA does. But it was certainly a very good preparation.
What were those first two weeks like on the job? What were some of those things that you weren’t aware that the DA did?
It has been busy and very interesting. You can presume what another job involves, but you don’t know what it entails until you have done it. For example, as first assistant, I was somewhat involved in the budget preparation process, but I wasn’t aware of every approval of every expenditure. There were things that I didn’t always see and meetings I didn’t know Ed (Marsico) had taken as DA. There is a lot that I thought occurred, but I wasn’t made fully aware of some of these things until I was sworn in as District Attorney. I’ve spent a lot of time getting up to speed on the administrative side of the job.
How do you approach the role as the lead prosecutor?
Listening is a very important part of it—hearing from all sides and not jumping to any conclusions. Dauphin County has 30 assistant district attorneys. That means I have all those ADAs, police officers and defense attorneys coming to see me all the time. It’s important to not jump to a conclusion after only hearing from one side. I want to hear from other parties before making my decisions. I learned that from Ed. You don’t want to lock yourself into something before you have heard from everyone.
Do you have vision for your time as DA in the Dauphin County District Attorneys Office? What does that vision look like?
Since I was a part of the decision making in the office beginning in 2003, I have been involved in the process for a long time. When I had ideas, I was fortunate to work with a district attorney who was willing to adopt a lot of those ideas. So, there will not be a huge departure from the current course. There are things that we can work on. Certainly, we are faced with the opioid-heroin epidemic. We are working on some legislative fixes, but also looking at the tools we already have in place. It’s a work in progress. We’re revamping our drug court now that Judge Ed Marsico is assigned to it. We are working with our drug court team, drug court experts and experts in the field so we can make tweaks to make it more effective. But, as I said before, I think we have to get ideas from other people before we do anything.
Tell us what you consider the greatest law enforcement challenges the county faces.
I would point to the opioid-heroin epidemic and the continuing and ongoing problem of gun violence. We have a lot of gun violence still occurring. I think we do a good job addressing it, but we have more work to do. Right now we are working with our federal partners to identify cases to refer for federal prosecution to obtain just sentences for people who should not be in possession of firearms. Here in state court, we have prioritized getting appropriate sentences for people who commit violent crimes with guns.
Another work in progress is our continued efforts to collaborate with local law enforcement. We are pairing county detectives more and more with local municipal police departments on homicides. Having someone from the district attorney’s office involved from the beginning means there is somebody aware of the case all along the way so that after the municipal police pass the case on to our office, the detective who has been working on the case continue the work right through trial.
Has your involvement with the Association assisted you as a prosecutor?
Absolutely, I intend to stay involved in the Association. PDAA is a huge resource. Knowing that I have the ability to pick up the phone and reach out to colleagues across the state, getting ideas and sharing ideas with fellow prosecutors, has been invaluable throughout my time as first assistant. I know it is going to continue to be invaluable in this new role. I hope to contribute too. Being here in Harrisburg, just steps from the Capitol, I hope I can be useful to our Association and a resource to lawmakers as they consider issues related to public safety and law enforcement.